LOS ANGELES (AP) - A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that an Iraq War veteran cannot sue the makers of the “The Hurt Locker” because he believes the Oscar-winning film portrayed him in a bad light.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a lower court’s dismissal of Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver’s 2009 lawsuit against director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal was proper. Sarver, a bomb-disposal technician who was shadowed by Boal in Iraq, contended the film defamed him by portraying him as obsessed with death.
The court disagreed, saying the film was protected by the First Amendment and its fictional protagonist, even if he is based on Sarver, was shown to be a heroic figure.
The ruling states the justices agreed that reasonable viewers of the movie “would be left with the conclusion that the character Will James was a heroic figure, albeit one struggling with certain internal conflicts.”
The ruling further stated, ” ‘The Hurt Locker’ is speech that is fully protected by the First Amendment, which safeguards the storytellers and artists who take the raw materials of life - including the stories of real individuals, ordinary or extraordinary - and transform them into art, be it articles, books, movies, or plays.”
“This is a highly important precedent that will have major implications for the entire film industry,” said attorney Jeremiah Reynolds, who represented Bigelow and Boal.
“The Hurt Locker” won six Oscars, including one for Boal’s screenplay and another for Bigelow’s directing. It also won for best picture.
Sarver’s attorney, Michael Dezsi, says the ruling is disappointing, and he’s considering how to proceed, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Sgt. Sarver courageously defended his country and the liberties of this nation in the most dangerous of circumstances, and has now been repaid by the failure of the judicial system to protect his rights,” Dezsi wrote in an email.
Sarver sued over the film days before it won big at the 2010 Oscars. A Los Angeles federal judge dismissed his case the following year.
Boal was embedded with Sarver’s unit in 2004 and wrote about Sarver and other bomb disposal experts in an article for Playboy magazine titled “The Man in the Bomb Suit.”
Sarver said Boal wanted to stay with him exclusively because he didn’t trust other bomb techs.
Anthony McCartney can be reached at https://twitter.com/mccartneyAP
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