Sacha Baron Cohen Cites Orthodox Jewish Observance in Lawsuit Against Cannabis Company
British actor Sacha Baron Cohen filed a lawsuit on Monday against a cannabis company for using the image of his film character Borat on a Massachusetts interstate highway billboard advertisement.
The Jewish actor, who portrayed the fictional Kazakh journalist in two “Borat” movies, is suing Solar Therapeutics for willful copyright infringement, false advertising and misappropriation of his right of publicity over the use of the billboard, which promotes sustainable cannabis and shows the Borat character giving the thumbs up with his tagline “It’s Nice!”
“By use of the billboard, the defendants falsely have conveyed to the public that Mr. Baron Cohen has endorsed their products and is affiliated with their business,” wrote attorney David Condon in the complaint, which was shared by The Hollywood Reporter. “To the contrary, Mr. Baron Cohen never has used cannabis in his life. He never would participate in an advertising campaign for cannabis, for any amount of money.”
The actor has also never been involved in advertising any commercial products or services “despite countless opportunities to do so” because he believes it would “weaken his credibility as an actor and as a serious social activist,” read the complaint.
It added that “in addition, Mr. Baron Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family; he is an Observant Jew; and he is proud of his cultural heritage. He does not wish to be involved in the heated controversy among the Orthodox Jewish community about whether cannabis can be used under Jewish traditions, customs, and rules — a controversy in which many rabbinical leaders have stated that cannabis use is a violation of Jewish law. Moreover, the sale and distribution of cannabis remains a federal crime everywhere in the United States, including Massachusetts.”
The complaint explained that Baron Cohen has never used cannabis because “he does not believe it is a healthy choice,” and he has made a conscious effort to avoid showing cannabis in a positive light in his work.
“With his Ali G character, portrayed by Mr. Baron Cohen in the HBO television series ‘Da Ali G Show,’ Mr. Baron Cohen has spent much of his career making a mockery of ‘stoner’ culture — a culture which the defendants’ billboard overtly celebrates,” said the complaint.
It also stated that the actor “is highly protective of his image and persona, and those of his characters. Mr. Baron Cohen is very careful with the manner in which he uses his persona and his characters to interact with his fans and the general public … He would be appalled if his young children were to discover, mistakenly or otherwise, that he was associated with the promotion of cannabis.”
Solar Therapeutics took down the billboard after Baron Cohen’s lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter, but declined to compensate the actor for the unauthorized use of his image, the Hollywood Reporter stated. He is seeking compensation of “at least” $9 million, according to the lawsuit.