King of R&B Bobby Brown filed a $2 million lawsuit naming Showtime, the BBC, and producers of Being Bobby Brown among its defendants over what his complaint claims is 30 minutes of unauthorized footage in the 2017 Showtime/BBC documentary Whitney. Can I Be Me?
Brown’s suit, which refers to the singer as “legendary” (fair!), was filed Tuesday in New York District Court and was obtained by Deadline. It contends that over 30 minutes of footage featuring Brown and various children of his, including Bobbi Kristina Brown, who died in 2015, appears in the film without his consent. At least some of this footage was shot for his 2006 Bravo show Being Bobby Brown. Two of that show’s producers, Tracey Baker-Simmons & Wanda Shelley, as well as their company, Simmons Shelley Entertainment LLC, are also defendants in the suit.
“Brown never signed or executed a release for the airing of the material that appears in the film,” reads part of the complaint. We can reasonably assume that he did sign a release for footage taped at this time that ended up on Being Bobby Brown. However, Brown’s suit claims that the use of this footage, much of it previously unaired, violates a 2004 contract signed by him, Baker-Simmons, and Shelley. He signed over, according to what is labeled as an excerpt of that 2004 contract, his rights to be portrayed in “the Project” (Being Bobby Brown). Further:
Except where required by law, both parties shall keep confidential the Project and any ideas, concepts, stories plots, themes or other material related to the Project unless express written consent is provided by the parties. Neither party shall: circumvent the other’s role and anticipated financial compensation in connection with the Project or other unscripted television programs; negotiate a side deal with any third party in the which does not include the other party; or any way attempt to circumvent the spirit and intent of this Agreement.
Brown’s complaint alleges:
[Simmons Shelley Entertainment LLC], [Baker-Simmons and Shelley’s former company] B2, Simmons and Shelley have (1) circumvented [Bobby Brown]’s role (2) have negotiated a side deal with a third party to make the [Bobbi Kristina Brown] project with includes information obtained and associated with the show “Being Bobby Brown” and (3) circumvented the spirit and intent of the Agreement in violation of paragraph 6 of the Agreement by utilizing information, concepts, ideas , materials and footage obtained during the production of “Being Bobby Brown” to make the movie “Can I Be Me” without the consent RB.
Additionally, Brown’s suit claims Baker-Simmons and Shelley had no rights to the footage or to sign it over since B2 dissolved before 2009. It continues: “All the Defendants were informed in 2017 that the Plaintiffs’ rights have been violated, however, the Defendants continued to air the film with the knowledge that the use of the Plaintiff images and likeness were not authorized.” The movie has aired around the world, including on Showtime in the U.S. and BBC Two in the U.K.
Regarding this Being Bobby Brown footage, one of the movie’s directors, Nick Broomfield, told Jezebel last year:
“One of the producers from Being Bobby Brown gave us a choice of all the outtakes. Most of our film concentrated on an earlier period. I was kind of keen not to spend too much time with Whitney right at the end because she changed so much, but [Tracey Baker-Simmons] had some amazing stuff. It’s fascinating to look at it. The conversation in the restaurant [about] Bobbi-Kristina[’s weight], they obviously forgot they were being filmed and you kind of got a sense of their dynamic. And the stuff in the bedroom—pretty amazing stuff.”
The film’s editor, Marc Hoeferlin, added:
“That show itself comes across as that train wreck of a show. It wasn’t shot like that. It was shot really well and observationally and I don’t know if that was the intention to do that kind of reality TV thing. That footage is really amazing, really long takes and you get a really good idea.”
In my eyes, the Being Bobby Brown outtakes are some of the most fascinating material in that documentary. Neither Broomfield, nor his co-director, Rudy Dolezal, are named as defendants in the case.