The maker of Amazing Grace, the 2018 documentary about Aretha Franklin’s live-album recording at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles, are suing indie-darling distributor Neon over its handling of the film. According to the lawsuit (obtained by the L.A. Times), Neon “fraudulently induced” producer Alan Elliott into signing on by announcing that it had acquired the rights to the film. The suit says the two parties were still in negotiations at the time. “Neon’s premature and false announcement had an immediate chilling effect on bids from other distributors who were actively competing to secure a distribution deal,” the suit reads.
It then alleges that Neon backed out of promises to show the film on 1,000 screens in favor of a streaming deal with platforms such as Hulu. Elliott says the entire point of working with Neon was to secure those 1,000 screens and focus primarily on Black audiences because “there is a long history of Hollywood under-marketing Black films, and Plaintiff did not want to see this phenomenon bear out for the Picture.” The lawsuit asserts that this under-marketing did take place with Amazing Grace and that Neon “abandoned” the film during awards season. The suit is seeking $5 million in damages.
This is not the first legal action surrounding Amazing Grace, as Aretha Franklin herself sued in 2011 to keep the film from being released; it came out only after her death. Meanwhile, Neon, the distributor of Parasite and I, Tonya, is reportedly looking into a minority-stake sale. Or even possibly becoming a label on a streaming service.
This story was edited to reflect Alan Elliott as primary stakeholder in Amazing Grace LLC.