A legal turf war has broken out between production company Morgan Creek and the estate of Tupac Shakur.
Morgan Creek has sued Amaru Entertainment, the company run by Afeni Shakur, the late rapper’s mother and executor, alleging in a Los Angeles Superior Court filing that the company has backed out of an agreement to sell his life rights for a film adaptation.
Negotiations between Morgan Creek and Amaru began in November for life rights that would form the basis of the untitled project. According to the complaint, a written contract was in place for life rights, with Morgan Creek claiming that Amaru is “refus(ing) to honor and perform a contract of a production of the film based on the life of Tupac Shakur.” The company seeks damages and other relief.
But late Wednesday, Amaru’s lawyers denied the existence of a deal. “There is no agreement with Morgan Creek, there never was, and there never will be,” said Amaru attorney Skip Miller, adding that the court filing is an attempt to force his client’s hand.
Miller said negotiations for a biopic on the controversial rapper were underway at several studios and that Morgan Creek attempted to sabotage those talks with threats of litigation. “They have scared away Paramount, Fox and others, and we are going to sue them and recover millions (in damages),” Miller said.
Morgan Creek and lawyer Patricia Glaser declined comment. The timeline laid out in the company’s complaint presents a complicated series of events, but the key moment came in December, when Morgan Creek said it requested a term sheet from Amaru and was given a counterproposal that “set forth, in meticulous detail, the precise comprehensive terms, including material terms, that (Amaru) required to enter into a contract for the project.” Those familiar with the case said that negotiations broke down in January, after Fox Searchlight released “Notorious,” a biopic about Shakur rival Biggie Smalls. The movie underperformed at the boxoffice, and a rift between the parties developed shortly after.
Shakur, who has sold more albums worldwide than any other hip-hop artist, led a colorful, made-for-Hollywood life. The New York-born, Oakland-raised rapper was a prolific artist at the dawn of the gangsta rap era and was charged with and incarcerated for a number of crimes. He also sold millions of records based partly on his experiences, including chart-toppers “Me Against the World” and “All Eyez on Me” and several posthumously released albums.
Shakur died after a 1996 shooting that likely was the result of an East Coast-West Coast rap feud. He acted in a number of Hollywood roles, including the romantic drama “Poetic Justice” and the basketball drama “Above the Rim.” His music has appeared in countless pics, including “8 Mile,” “Friday After Next” and “Blood Diamond.”
Over the years a number of scripts have gone into development on the rapper’s life, with none gaining traction. A documentary, “Tupac: Resurrection,” made $8 million for Paramount in 2003, and Sylvester Stallone was at one point developing a project about Shakur’s death and the subsequent killing of Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G.
Other hip-hop tales in development include “Tougher Than Leather,” the story of ’80s hip-hop pioneers Run-D.M.C., which “Notorious” scribe Cheo Hodari Coker is attached to write for Davis Entertainment.
Life rights and collaboration with an executor are not always necessary with a public figure like Shakur, though they would be essential if the filmmakers hope to include music, as they would in this case.