On Wednesday, Woody Allen ’s $68 million lawsuit against Amazon took a turn when a judge dismissed several of his claims against the powerful streamer. U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote ruled that Allen’s legal team could not sue the streaming platform for breaching his overall multipicture acquisition arrangement, but instead had to make a case based on the individual films left in the deal. Representatives for Allen have not responded to Vanity Fair ’s request for comment regarding the latest decision—but in conversations with V.F., legal experts said that while Allen’s suit has been dealt a blow, it’s also far from over. When all is said and done, they explained, Amazon might still have to shell out millions in order to finally walk away from its contract with the director.
“This is just one battle in a big old war,” attorney Jonathan Bender told Vanity Fair. “Looking at the big picture, is the case over? No, it’s not over. But it’s certainly a good development if you’re rooting for Amazon.”
The controversial director filed his suit in February, after Amazon terminated Allen’s multipicture deal amid the rise of Hollywood’s sexual-misconduct reckoning. Allen had four films left on the deal, including A Rainy Day in New York, a film shelved by Amazon (though it has since been acquired and released in Europe ). In explaining its decision, Amazon blamed Allen’s faltering reputation in Hollywood—numerous high-profile stars like Greta Gerwig and Colin Firth have said they will no longer work with him—as well as his dubious remarks about the #MeToo movement at large. The latest decision on Wednesday has now limited the scope of Allen’s multimillion fight.
“This decision was a victory for Amazon,” said attorney Stu Slotnick, noting that Judge Cote knocked out Allen’s claims that Amazon previously used Allen’s name to burnish the streamer’s foray into prestige cinema. According to Allen’s legal team, Amazon generated publicity by announcing that it had made a deal with Allen—but the director did not benefit in return. He only made one film under the deal, Rainy Day. Previously Amazon distributed his film Wonder Wheel and his TV series Crisis in Six Scenes. Amazon’s legal team, meanwhile, argued that the company ultimately did not benefit from its deal with Allen, as the director’s reputation has been greatly diminished in the wake of renewed sexual-misconduct claims against Allen from Dylan Farrow, Allen’s estranged daughter.
Farrow has long alleged that Allen sexually molested her when she was a child. In the wake of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, she repeated her claims once more, writing op-eds about Hollywood’s lack of action against Allen. She has since garnered support from stars like Oprah and Shonda Rhimes. Allen has repeatedly denied the claims and was never criminally charged .
Allen’s suit also alleged that the termination of the contract essentially limited his potential to work with outside investors—arguing that “he didn’t just suffer the loss of four individual pictures,” explained Jonathan Handel, an attorney and lecturer in law at the USC Gould School of Law. “He suffered the loss of the institutional relationship with Amazon that benefits him in general P.R. ways, but also benefits him in the marketplace.”
But Judge Cote dismissed that claim on Wednesday. In other words, said Slotnick, “Woody Allen tried to make this lawsuit bigger than it was, and the judge said, No, that’s not what this lawsuit is about.”
Advertisement Still, the suit is far from over. Allen has several claims left to pursue, and though his $68 million sum has now been “sliced and diced,” as Slotnick put it, there are still millions potentially on the table. And while this latest decision might have been a disappointment to Allen’s team, it was by no means a death blow. Handel likened it to “a P.R. hit you have to be willing to take—and maybe Woody Allen, given his situation, is willing to take a lot of P.R. hits.”
“From the court’s perspective, there’s always a very strong presumption that we’re going to honor the terms of a contract,” Bender said. “These are multimillion-dollar contracts, they were heavily negotiated by teams of lawyers—you stand by it. And if you don’t, then you pay the price.”
For Amazon, the price—however many millions it could be, when all is said and done—might be worth it in order for the company to distance itself from a collaborator whose reputation has become radioactive in certain circles.
“You’re shooting yourself in the foot by continuing this relationship,” Bender said, adding that, in the court of public opinion, audiences might be applauding the streamer for taking a strong stance. “From Amazon’s perspective, even if they write a big check, they can be cast as the winner.”