Lee Daniels Sued by SAG-AFTRA Over Residual Payments on 2005 Indie Movie

The director’s company has failed to pay $335K in residuals and health payments from his film “Shadowboxer,” the suit claims

SAG-AFTRA filed a lawsuit against Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of “Precious” and the co-creator of Fox’s hit TV show “Empire,” on Tuesday in California federal court.

In legal documents obtained by TheWrap, the labor guild claims that Daniels’ company has failed to pay $335,000 in residuals and pension and health contributions to performers on his 2005 film, “Shadowboxer.”

According to the complaint, Daniels made “Shadowboxer,” which starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Helen Mirren and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement for independent producers, but has failed to deliver required reports about the distribution of the movie or make payments.

Representatives for Daniels reached by TheWrap late Tuesday offered no immediate comment on the suit.

The filing in U.S. Central District Court is the latest in a string of recent legal battles for Daniels, who last week asked a court to dismiss a $10 million defamation suit filed by Sean Penn. The producer-director and his company were sued in March by Twentieth Century Fox in a dispute over “Empire” title rights. And in May, Sophia Eggleston sued Daniels and Fox claiming that “Empire” matriarch Cookie Lyon was based on her life.

The latest dispute goes all the way back to 2009, when SAG-AFTRA took Daniels to confidential arbitration over this issue. According to the filing, Daniels has failed to made good on the arbitrator’s order to pay SAG-AFTRA more than $335,000, consisting of $169,630 in residuals, $25,323 in pension and health contributions, and $93,544 in late payment damages.

“As attempts to enforce the arbitration award were unsuccessful, the union filed this action to reserve all rights to obtain payment,” the union said in statement issued late Tuesday.  “Residuals payments are crucial income for many of SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000+ members and the union vigorously enforces residuals payments for members.

“SAG-AFTRA respects Mr. Daniels as a producer and director and has not taken any legal action against him individually.  This dispute is with the corporate entities responsible for residuals payments on the film. … We remain ready to resolve this dispute amicably.”

The guild gave no reason for the delay in its filing for the payments of the arbitration award against Shadowboxer, LLC and Lee Daniels Entertainment. But it did say in the filing that it has attempted to reach Daniels as late as Nov. 25, 2015, but that the “telephone number was out of service.”

Daniels was at the center of a high-profile legal dispute over the title of the feature film “The Butler” in 2013. The Weinstein Company agreed to change the title to “Lee Daniels‘ The Butler,” in the wake of complaints by Warner Bros. that it held the rights to the original name of the film.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.