Scarlett Johansson, Grégoire Delacourt, and the Case of a Self-Obsessed Celebrity

Scarlett-Johansson-as-Charlotte-in-Lost-in-Translation-8

On Monday, June 10, 2013, The Independent reported that screen actress Scarlett Johansson is suing best selling French author Grégoire Delacourt and his publisher JC Lattes for describing a character in his novel La première chose qu’on regard as Johansson’s doppelgänger. The article can be found here. According to Johansson, the author’s use of her name is a “breach and fraudulent use of personal rights.” The author has responded rather eloquently, saying that he had no intention to insult Johansson, and that the character is a comment on celebrity culture and in many ways pays homage to Johansson’s screen persona. Then he went on to wonder if he would be sued by airbag manufactures for having one of his characters in his novel cause injury from an airbag.

This story represents another one of those hyperbolic, self-aggrandizing celebrity moments that can only be described as absurd. Years from now, people will not remember this story, but if someone were to stumble upon it, they would probably wonder whether or not The Independent swapped places with The Onion for a day. How can something like this be taken seriously? I do not mean this question as a rhetorical one. I seriously want to know how someone can take Johansson’s claim seriously.

Surely this moment, should it be accurately reported and should it progress in the court of law, will be Johansson’s downfall. Surely the decision she and her team have made to sue Delacourt will only tarnish her star image, perhaps irrevocably. While I can only speculate, I find it hard to believe that Johansson is in dire need of a legal settlement, and it is equally difficult to imagine that she is severely hurt by Delacourt’s decision to drop her name in his novel. If both of these are true, then I will fed-ex a string section to her immediately.

While I make light of this ridiculous situation, I think it is important to discuss as a successful outcome for Johansson can potentially threaten artistic expression. If an author such as Delacourt cannot use a public figure’s name in a creative, artistic way, what else will artists not be able to do? I can certainly understand if Delacourt used the novel as an excuse to libel Johansson or subtly and indirectly threaten her. But to simply incorporate her name into the novel to physically describe another character is not enough to warrant a lawsuit, regardless of whichever way her team wants to spin the law. Moreover, for Johansson to think that a minor concern over her image is actually significant in the larger scheme of the world, in which people starve and die and struggle to make the kind of money in their whole lives that Johansson makes in a month, is typical of the contemporary celebrity’s complete narcissism. This is no different than the stars who become upset after Ricky Gervais jokes about them at the Golden Globe Awards. In fact, it may be a little different, because those stars aren’t suing Gervais for money.

I do not personally believe that a lawsuit like this should see the light of day, but I hope that Johansson understands how damaging this can be to her career if it does–more damaging than Delacourt’s fictional words ever could be. I hope that she realizes how petty and out of touch she and those who represent her appear by following through with this case. To be clear: I don’t know anything about Johansson and I do not pretend to make any claims about her personage. I think she is a decent actress and her performance in Lost in Translation (2003) is a career highlight. All I can do is comment on the image that she promotes in the public eye, as reported by The Independent and other news outlets. This image is merely the case of another self-obsessed star who has lost touch with reality.

Those who have read Delacourt’s novel seem to agree that he presents Johansson in a favorable light. How much more favorable to how she is now presenting herself, only time can tell.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Jon Lisi is a PhD student who writes about film, television, and popular culture. You can follow his work here: http://jonlisi.pressfolios.com/.

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10 Comments

  1. Charles M. J.
    0

    Does this open the door for the estate of Henry Fonda to sue the estate of Joseph Heller, for Heller’s comparison of Major Major to Henry Fonda?

  2. MrsPeppermint
    0

    It is possible that the action was compelled by her legal representative or even her agent without her specific request. The issue is over commercial use of her “image” whether in words or photo, without prior permission. Whether she wins or not is debatable as this is a work of fiction and not liabelous, nor does it rely on her “image” for “commercial” purposes per se. Discussing or publishing photos of famous people while reporting, writing histories, unauthorized biographies, etc. are generally held free from constraint. That would include satire. It all depends on context.

    • Pete Morin
      0

      No person can have her name employed as a plaintiff in litigation without her knowledge or consent – unless she has been so foolish as to sign away her right of publicity to someone else. Highly unlikely she wasn’t consulted.

  3. Jacob Rafferty

    While not necessarily a damaging piece of work by Delacourt, the question as to why he has chosen to so blatantly name drop must be asked. With other celebrities, such as Ryan Gosling, being mentioned, it, wrongly or rightly, appears to me that he did not have a strong enough plot to do without namedropping. I admit that I have not read the novel, but to write about a celebrity, in this case Johansson, for the first 70 pages (as reported in the Independent article that was referenced) appears to me to be a little over the top. Writers such as Will Self utilise contemporaneity in a far more effective way, particularly in his novel ‘Dorian’, as a ‘nod’ to celebrity, rather than a hook to reel readers in.

    I don’t disagree with what you are saying, however I feel that Delacourt, as well as Johansson, is as much to blame for the furore created by the lawsuit.

  4. Sir Phobos
    0

    I don’t know if I agree this will be as damaging to her career as you say, but regardless, it’s stupid as hell. I think a nice drumming in the press for a week or so, coupled with the complete dismissal of the suit should be enough of a punishment. But I think the larger concern here is that she’s apparently cognizant enough to be aware of her name being used by others, but not enough to actually, you know, make a worthwhile movie. She was good in Hitchcock, but man…I feel like her talent has been mostly wasted up to this point.

  5. Kathryn Talbot

    I don’t agree that she has a right to sue because Delacourt used her name, but it must be hard to have people constantly on your case every day, and then find out that someone has written about you in a fictional context without consent. It’s similar to how I think people must feel with fanfiction written about real people. Just because Delacourt has a book deal, doesn’t make it alright to take someone’s name and use it randomly.

  6. Just another individual
    0

    Well, the plus side is that the publicity will make the author a best-seller, the minus side is yet another revelation of the sheer triviality of these self-obsessed film – alleged – stars.

  7. It seems this article has had a rather heavy hand onto itself. A lawsuit protecting the American actresses’ name in France certainly is not a “hyperbolic, self aggrandizing celebrity moment”. The suit is less than a blip on the screen of life and does not warrant the vitriol of the writer or even discussion at all. The author even argues this point when he/she discusses the lack of significance of a battle over her image within the “scheme of the world”. So why discuss it? Give it notice? Give it a discussion forum? If the author is concerned with people starving he/she should write about that and leave the purported narcissism to the actress.

  8. You make a compelling argument and the folly of Johansson is only gaining in momentum. Well done.

    Once I had respect for her as an actress and I still do, as an actor. However, nowadays I have no respect left for her as a human being.

    This example is just another one in the shameful history of Johansson. She believes the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is a good thing for the Palestinians and when prompted to choose between a humanitarian organization dedicated to the well being of the human race and a company currently situated in the occupied territories of Palestine she obviously chooses the friendly company. Because no one disputes their contribution to the Palestinian people according to Johansson. Right. Why don’t you try to read a book instead of suing the author of one (Which you obviously haven’t read yet either.)

    Why are we giving so much attention to this hurtful person? Because she looks good? Or maybe it’s because she’s such an excellent actress? There are other beautiful, talented actresses that don’t hate the Palestinians. She believes the ongoing struggle of the palestinians are in fact good for them. They just don’t know it themselves yet. Why don’t we just ignore ignorant people like this instead of giving them more attention? No wonder the children of the world are growing up racist and hateful. *Sigh*

  9. Rachel Watson

    The high level of bias and exaggerated opinion in this article should have been countered with acknowledging the other side of the issue. Johansson is still a human being who is permitted to make mistakes or be erroneously persuaded by her agents and lawyers who have financial motivations in mind. I hope in the future you choose to look at both sides of any topic, and integrate your opinion with evidence and reasoning. This will make your argument seem more reasonable rather than simply an extended tangent of opinions that carry little weight.

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