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Oscar winners sued in Detroit over 2011 film

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Muskegon woman sued Oscar-winning actors Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz on Tuesday in federal court, alleging their 2011 film “Water for Elephants” contained hidden, anti-Semitic messages.

Actor Christoph Waltz accepts the award for best actor in a supporting role for "Django Unchained" during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit by Sarah Deming against Witherspoon, Waltz, director Francis Lawrence and Fox Entertainment Group Inc. claims the movie violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act by deceiving consumers and included subliminal messages that promote hatred of Jews.

“This is a very serious, widespread issue and viewers are not aware of the messages they’re being exposed to,” Deming’s lawyer Martin Leaf told The Detroit News. “Research shows this is a very effective way of changing behavior and beliefs.”

Reese Witherspoon.

The lawsuit comes four years after plaintiff Deming lost a similar lawsuit in Oakland County. Deming sued after watching the thriller “Drive,” claiming the 2011 film starring Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks was anti-Semitic and violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling.

“Being offended by a film is not, in and of itself, grounds for a lawsuit,” the appeals court wrote.

A Fox spokesman declined comment Tuesday.

The new lawsuit, which wrongly identifies Waltz, who won Oscars for “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” as “Christopher Waltz,” is asking for unspecified damages. Witherspoon won an Oscar for “Walk the Line.”

Deming also wants to block Fox Entertainment Group from selling and distributing the film without removing subliminal messages she says promote anti-Semitism.

The lawsuit included still images from the film to illustrate claims “Water for Elephants” contains subliminal anti-Semitic messages.

Deming says she watched the film at Emagine Novi in April 2011 and determined the movie “used advanced, sophisticated effective techniques, to implant, in the mind, hatred for Jews and Judaism, without the viewer’s conscious awareness...”

Leaf called the techniques “Implanted Hate.”

“This implanted hate consisted of displaying Jewish symbols, without the viewers’ awareness due to the well documented phenomenon of ‘inattentional blindness,’ to associate a psychopathic, sociopathic, animal beater, wife beater and murderer, with Jews and Judaism,” Leaf wrote in the complaint.

The lawyer attached several still images from the film to illustrate the point.

The lawsuit included still images from the film to illustrate claims “Water for Elephants” contains subliminal anti-Semitic messages.

One still image showed Waltz’s character August Rosenbluth wearing a shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his elbow.

“Halfway down Rosenbluth’s upper-arm is a nonconscious Jewish Star, to promote the message that Jews and Judaism are cruel, murderous and sadistic,” the lawyer wrote.

The lawsuit also claims Witherspoon’s character wore a blue-and-white dress with shapes that resembled the Star of David and nautical symbols.

The lawsuit included still images from the film to illustrate claims “Water for Elephants” contains subliminal anti-Semitic messages.

“Consistent with the half nautical — half star of David described above, the Jewish Star was specifically placed there to promote the message of hate against Jews and Judaism,” Leaf wrote.

Leaf is separately pursuing claims against “Drive” in federal court.

There are other examples of artists sneaking anti-Semitic messages into productions, Leaf said.

He pointed to a recent controversy surrounding X-Men comics and an artist accused of including anti-Christian and anti-Semitic messages in some comic panels.

“What is happening in films is far far more pervasive,” Leaf wrote in an email, “and far worse.”

rsnell@detnews.com

(313) 222-2486

Twitter: @robertsnellnews