The Journalist and the Movie Star

The Players: Angelina Jolie, Hollywood mega-star who making her upcoming directorial debut in the Bosnian war movie In the Land of Blood and Honey; James Braddock, a Croatian journalist accusing Jolie of stealing his story.

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The Players: Angelina Jolie, Hollywood mega-star who making her upcoming directorial debut in the Bosnian war movie In the Land of Blood and Honey; James Braddock, a Croatian journalist accusing Jolie of stealing his story.

The Opening Serve: Braddock is author of The Soul Shattering, which he describes on his site as "a tribute to all the women and girls of Bosnia & Herzegovina who were subjected to the inhumane, intended, organized and perpetual abuse and rape." After some back and forth with the producers of Jolie's In the Land of Blood and Honey, which is due out in theaters on Dec. 23, Braddock filed a lawsuit alleging copyright violations and asking for an injunction on the film's release. The Hollywood Reporter published the complaint (in case the spirit moves you to dig through legal jargon) which stipulates that he met with one of Jolie's producers and contributed "plot and character development, and the story’s cultural significance and historical accuracy."  You see, Braddock claims he met with Jolie's producer, Edin Sarkic several times and as THR puts it, "The discussions are said to have evolved into the possibility of creating a film adaptation of his book [The Soul Shattering], The two kept in touch over telephone and text messages over the next two years." They add (for those anticipating the Blood and Honey release this might a bit of a spoiler), "He details some of the similarities, including the backdrop of war-torn Bosnia and Herzogovina in the early 1990s, a main female character who is captured and imprisoned and raped by soldiers, and a Serbian camp commander who falls in love with the woman and helps her escape."  And from the looks of his Twitter page, he's been pretty active in tweeting about one subject: Jolie's Land of Blood Honey.

The Return Volley: The Los Angeles Times caught up with Jolie, who issued a rather generic response. "It's par for the course. It happens on almost every film," she told them.  When pressed further, Jolie told them she did gather elements for her movie from many sources, including books by journalists Peter Maass and Tom Gjelten, but Braddock wasn't one of them. "There are many books and documentaries that I did pull from. It's a combination of many people's stories," she said. "But that particular book I've never seen." And the LA Times notes that this isn't the first time Jolie has faced backlash to the movie. A Balkans women's group protested the (sorry spoilers) cross-ethnic romance in the movie.  "I felt sympathy for people for whom these issues are so sensitive," she said at the time. "But when you're coming at something because you care so much about an area, especially women in that area, as I was, and you know the themes of the film are violence against women, then to be accused of the opposite hurts. You feel a little sickened by it."

What They Say They're Fighting About: If Jolie ripped Braddock off. She contends that this happens "on almost every film," which is a double-edged insult. She could be saying that there aren't enough brand new plots in Hollywood screenwriting, but it's more than likely she's aiming to paint Braddock as someone who wants a cut of her success. Her second defense is that she did borrow some elements from journalists, but none of those journalists was Braddock--which stings even more. Braddock pegs his argument on her producer, an argument not unlike this spat from a few months ago when a journalist (like Braddock) accused a producer (like Sarkic) and Julie Child's nephew (a celebrity like Jolie) of ripping off her stories.

What They're Really Fighting About: Money. Money is what it all sadly comes down to isn't it? Braddock is looking for his paycheck, or at least the publicity that will lead to one. Stories are currency for journalists and authors, and if Braddock gave his away to Jolie's producer--that's a lot of work he's done for nothing. But there's also the element that Angelina Jolie is a bankable, highly-profitable star--and with that comes with two perceptions, the first being that she can get away with anything she wants and the second that everyone, including Braddock wants a piece of her profitability. And there's also this sentiment that it's Angelina Jolie and her ilk who the public trusts and pays to tell them stories--not the Peter Maasses,Tom Gjeltens, Braddocks, and journalists like them who may have actually written those stories.

Who's Winning Now: Jolie, but neither come off looking great. The biggest problem right now is the fact that the movie will not be released until December 23. Yes, there are brief plot outlines (which are feeble spoilers at best), but the general public can't side with anyone (yet) in this spat. Jolie's excuse of pulling elements makes her look humble (and perhaps even nabs her a few humble-brag points for name-dropping Peter Maass). She has the bigger name, and she's essentially painted Braddock as the squeaky, gold-digging, dime-a-dozen pest that comes with the territory of being a giant movie star. But what's lost here is that, and please forgive a moment of altruism, shouldn't this story really be about the plight of the women in Bosnian Civil War? And isn't the impetus of movies, journalism, and Saint Angelina Jolie's brand--primarily to tell stories and shed light on human hardship? Instead we're stuck here with both sides bickering over where credit is due, which leaves us wondering if the plight of Bosnian women was more a prop than purpose.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.