Tupac's mother files cross-suit over film project

Mon Mar 16, 2009 12:50am EDT

Nuno (L) talks to Sergio Rodrigues ''Sorriso'' next to a graffiti of murdered rapper Tupac Shakur in the Cova da Moura district in Lisbon December 6, 2007. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Nuno (L) talks to Sergio Rodrigues ''Sorriso'' next to a graffiti of murdered rapper Tupac Shakur in the Cova da Moura district in Lisbon December 6, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Nacho Doce

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Tupac Shakur's mother is firing back at independent production company Morgan Creek over the right to make a biopic about the late rapper.

In a $10 million cross-complaint set to be filed Monday morning, Afeni Shakur's Amaru Entertainment claims that Morgan Creek, CEO James Robinson and others tried to strong-arm a deal for Tupac movie rights, then sabotaged the project when Amaru attempted to set it up elsewhere.

"Instead of negotiating in good faith with (Amaru), they sought to obtain the rights by concocting a nonexistent 'agreement' and engaging in heavy-handed threats, coercion and intimidation to interfere with and ultimately destroy the film project," Amaru claims.

Morgan Creek first filed a lawsuit last month in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that Amaru, which controls the Tupac estate, backed out of a completed deal to sell life rights for a biopic about the slain rapper-actor.

The company, headed by Robinson and former Creative Artists Agency agent Rick Nicita, said it received a final term sheet in December detailing everything that would be required to reach an agreement. The proposal was accepted by Morgan Creek executives in late January, but Amaru has refused to honor it, the complaint alleged.

Now Amaru is seeking a court declaration that there never was a deal. Morgan Creek allegedly was one of several suitors for the project, among them Paramount, Fox Searchlight, Kennedy/Marshall and Brett Ratner's Rat Entertainment. The cross-complaint says key details of a deal, including an executive producer credit for Afeni Shakur, were not worked out with Morgan Creek and that she hadn't even seen the proposed contract. Instead, Amaru's counteroffer was to be the basis for further negotiation, according to the filing.

But days after "Notorious," a biopic about Tupac rival Biggie Smalls, grossed more than $20 million in its opening weekend January 16-18, Morgan Creek executives allegedly arranged a conference call with an Amaru attorney to "accept" the counteroffer and began telling other studios and producers that Morgan Creek owned rights to the project.

"This was a sleazy and illegal ploy to coerce (Amaru) into a deal," says the cross-complaint, which demands millions in damages for derailing talks with potential studios and producers.

Morgan Creek and its attorney Patricia Glaser declined to comment.

Also named in the cross-complaint are Morgan Creek legal executive Don Hardison and consultant LT Hutton. Nicita is not named personally.

The legal move is not unexpected. At the time of the Morgan Creek filing, Amaru and its lawyer Skip Miller told The Hollywood Reporter that they promised to countersue for "millions" in damages.

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)

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