Can we let Richard Simmons go off-grid already?

There may not be much that Simmons, or anyone, can do about being the subject of a biopic, at least until after the film is made. Mark Litwak, a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney who represents celebrities, says that in the US, the First Amendment protects a filmmaker’s right to share stories, and if they want more protection, they can obtain a release for the rights.

The real issue for filmmakers, he says, is involving accuracy. “The problem is that even if you want to tell the story as accurately as possible, sometimes you want to make changes,” he tells BBC Culture. Those edits or condensations can be for various reasons, such as screen time and not confusing the audience. However, taking those creative liberties can lead to lawsuits over defamation, Litwak adds. While lawsuits against productions don’t necessarily mean the case will be won, Litwak says there’s a reason that biopics are often released right after someone dies. It’s because “there’s much less legal exposure” that way.

But filmmakers are going to make films – and biopics are no exception. As Linda DeLibero, a senior lecturer in film and media studies at Johns Hopkins University, tells BBC Culture: “Despite the innumerable examples of subpar biopics, I have to agree that it is justifiable. Would I want to live without The Social Network just because Mark Zuckerberg might be upset with his portrayal? I don’t think so.”

She continues: “The best of these films usually end up humanising their subjects to the point where they garner audience sympathy (deserved or not).” She imagines that may be true in the case of the Simmons biopic. “And if the film turns out to be a masterpiece, that’s the price of art,” she says. “Celebrities make a bargain with their fans [regarding] their privacy the minute they step into the limelight. Ordinary people – unless they’re influencers or social media stars – have entered into no such contract.”

As for the as-yet-unnamed biopic, it doesn’t have a release date at this time; Wolper told Variety the studio was in discussions with a writer who’d handle the project with care.

If you liked this story, sign up for The Essential List newsletter – a handpicked selection of features, videos and can’t-miss news delivered to your inbox every Friday.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *