THE TRIAL OF JT LEROY
Metafiction collided with the law in a New York court this week as Antidote Films, the production company of producer Jeff Levy-Hinte (Thirteen, Laurel Canyon), sued Laura Albert, the woman behind the fictitious author JT Leroy and the novel Sarah, for fraud.
This intricate game of hide-and-seek with its interlocking issues of identity, fame, money and the healing power of art has now leapt from the media to what is arguably the culture’s second most obsessive arena: the courts. A film production company has sued Ms. Albert for fraud, saying that a contract signed with JT Leroy to make a feature film of Sarah should be null and void, for the simple reason that JT Leroy does not exist.
Feuer references O. Henry, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and the team of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman in discussing the intricate issues surrounding authorship and the relationship of the author to a work. With regards to Sarah, Antidote’s argument is that Leroy’s “true-life” backstory involving a childhood spent working at truck stops as a child prostitute, was integral to the book’s value.
As movie people say, the “inciting incident” of the lawsuit came with the publication in late 2005 of an article in New York magazine that questioned JT Leroy’s identity. The Times followed with an article in February that identified Ms. Albert as the true author of Sarah.
The producers at Antidote were stunned; they were also worried that the commercial prospects of their project might crumble. As Mr. Curtner put it: “The whole autobiographical back story aura that made this so attractive was a sham.”
Mr. Weinstein told the jury that the contract with Antidote was for a book, not a back story, and that the film company could have made the movie no matter who wrote the novel. He then went on to suggest that the project was in freefall (a bad screenplay) and that Antidote had used the excuse of disputed authorship as an escape hatch.
Read Feuer’s piece for more of the arguments on both sides.