The 2009 Universal ensemble comedy Couples Retreat sparked controversy when its Black performers were erased from the film’s international marketing. That controversy has come back to life as the film’s co-star Faizon Love has filed suit against Universal alleging that promises that were made to him were not kept.
In posters for the US release, Love was billed fourth after Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Jon Favreau, and pictured with Kali Fox, his onscreen partner, who also received prominent billing. Overseas, however, the names and likenesses of both performers were removed. This was first brought to public attention by UK newspapers when the picture was first released. Universal’s response was that the change was made to “simplify” the poster. It expressed regret and promised to pull the whitewashed poster from circulation
According to Love’s lawsuit, Love agreed not to sue Universal at the time based on specific representations that were made to him. Universal promised that it would cease any further use of the offending poster and offer recompense to Love in the form of future high-profile roles. Both of these promises were false, giving rise to his present claims for breach of contract and fraudulent inducement.
Love alleges that he has recently discovered that the poster can still be seen on movie websites around the world. As for the promises of future career benefits, Love stresses that he intentionally “opted for engagement and equanimity” with Universal and “endeavored to engage constructively.” To that end, he cites a personal apology he received at the time from Scott Stuber, one of the film’s producers who was then under a production deal with Universal. Stuber backed that apology with a promise to cast Love in a future movie that he produced for Universal. Adam Fogelson, who had just been promoted from head of marketing to studio chief, also called Love to apologize. Fogelson was joined on one of these calls by Vince Vaughn in which Fogelson and Vaughn committed to do a TV show with Love and suggested that making a “big deal” about the poster would not be good for his career.
The promised roles did not come through. Stuber is now head of original films at Netflix. Fogelson is now the chair of STX. Vaughn is still Vince Vaughn.
The complaint also asserts claims under California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. It backs these claims by showing the paucity of Black faces in the top ranks of Universal’s executive suite and on screen, and also points to Gabrielle Union’s well-publicized complaints of discrimination around her firing from America’s Got Talent, which airs on Universal’s corporate sibling NBC. Love asserts that these continued disparities despite the proven success of Black Panther and other projects with Black leads are strong evidence of continued racial discrimination.
Universal has not commented on the lawsuit.