A Native American tribe based in the mountains of northern New Jersey claim that a new movie starring Woody Harrelson, Christian Bale and Zoe Saldana paints a derogatory picture of their group as inbred social outcasts.
Members of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation filed a $50 million federal lawsuit against the makers of "Out of the Furnace" this week in Newark, N.J., alleging that screenwriters Scott Cooper and Brad Inglesby use too many details specific to the Ramapough people to be considered coincidence. They say the film embarrasses and shames them.
The movie follows the struggle of Bale's character to keep his younger brother out of a "bare-knuckle fight ring" in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey, where Harrelson's character is the head of a "criminal gang" called the Jackson Whites, according to the lawsuit.
"The community is depicted as lawless, drug-addicted, impoverished and violent; and the members appear to be of some sort of racially mixed heritage," the lawsuit claims.
Characters in the movie share the same last names as many people in the tribe, DeGroat and Van Dunk; live in the Ramapo Mountains of northern New Jersey and southern New York, use ATVs to travel among the mountain communities, and uses a historical term for the group that they say is derogatory: "Jackson Whites."
The movie describes characters as "inbred mountain folk from Jersey" and one says, "up in the Ramapos they got fights."
The group says they have been the target of shame and embarrassment before, when their schools were segregated from white schools in north Jersey and when descriptions of their communities were included in publications such as "Weird NJ."
"Any reasonable person would be highly offended by the false light in which the movie placed the people who are now, or were formerly, known as Jackson Whites," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit points out that Cooper, one of the screenwriters, based Harrelson's character on someone in Cooper's family's life, and that Cooper and Harrelson did research about "people in that area of the country" for the film.
Lydia Cotz, the attorney representing the plaintiffs said that movie "constitutes major misrepresentations of the plaintiff's character, history and beliefs."
"After the movie was released they were exposed to ridicule, hatred and shame and as a result, suffer emotionally," she said. "The movie has no true artistic value and offends the sensibilities of any reasonable person."
The representatives for the film production company and distributor of "Out of the Furnace" did not return calls for comment.