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Facebook, Meta Sued by Filmmaker Behind Banned Holocaust Movie – Rolling Stone

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One month after Facebook banned his Holocaust film, director Joshua Newton is suing his parent company Meta Platforms, Inc., for $700 million, alleging breach of contract, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Newton further alleviates in his suit, brought with his son, Alexander, that the company has “long been the subject of antisemitic practices.”

In early September, a digital media buyer tried to place ads for the movie Beautiful Blue Eyes. Facebook informed the buyer they could not do so because the film’s title, which refers to a pivotal scene in the movie involving the eye color of a child who perished at the hands of the Nazis, violated its policy against content that “includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race,” among other personal attributes.

The filmmakers appealed, and Facebook upheld the ban, sending a brief message to the media buyer. “After a requested review of your Facebook account, we confirmed it didn’t comply with our Advertising Policies or other standards,” the message read. “You can no longer advertise using Facebook Products. This is our final decision.”

The recently finished 2009 thriller, which is set against the backdrop of the Holocaust and marks Roy Scheider’s final performance, opened in 431 theaters in the US on Sept. 9 but without the benefit of advertising on any of Meta’s platforms including Instagram. (In the suit, the Newtons claim the film only showed in five theaters the following week due to the ban.) Trailers and other promotional material was “permanently restricted,” according to correspondence from the tech giant obtained by RollingStone.

In the wake of a RollingStone story about the ban, Meta reversed that so-called final decision, which it said in a statement was “made in error.” But the Newtons’ suit claims that “Facebook has historically been known to allow hate-based speech, racist and anti-Semitic content to flood its platform notwithstanding its offensive, derogatory and dangerous nature.”

“As a result of Facebook’s failure to follow its own Community Standards and guided by its habitual acts of anti-Semitism, the creators of Beautiful Blue Eyes were unfairly and wrongfully denied access to the Facebook platform to advertise the pre-theatrical release of the film and theme song, which negatively impacted the box office sales and will undoubtedly have a consequential negative effect on global ancillary sales,” the suit says.

The lawsuit lays out Meta’s policies concerning hate speech, antisemitism, and Holocaust denial, quoting a 2020 policy that was updated to “prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust” and noting that “Even a cursory review of the film … reveals that Beautiful Blue Eyes is not hate speech.”

The suit alleges that Facebook has “long been the subject of antisemitic practices,” and states, “Facebook’s decision to ban advertisements for Beautiful Blue Eyes was rooted in its long-standing anti-Semitic policies and not its Community Standards established to prevent the dissemination of hate speech.” (A rep for Meta did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the suit.)

The film follows an NYPD cop (Scheider) who has spent decades haunted by the murder of his family during World War II. When he believes he has found the still-living Nazi responsible for their deaths, he enlists his estranged son (played by Alexander Newton) to help him exact revenge.

Alexander was also affected by the ban. His music video for the film’s eponymous song, which he performs, also was prohibited as was any advertising or promotion of his artist’s page.

In a strange twist, the film’s publicist, Ursula Mae, tweeted the RollingStone story at two buzzfeed reporters on Sept. 14 in a bid to drum up more coverage of the ban — a common practice among communications specialists — and her account was immediately suspended for “violating our rules against evading permanent suspension.” Though Twitter did not cite the specific tweet that invoked its actions, Mae says she hadn’t tweeted in nearly two days since she quote tweeted a variety post about Zendaya’s historic Emmy win, writing “YES!!!” Hours after her first message from Twitter, she received a second that read: “Your account is permanently suspended. After careful review, we determined that your account broke the Twitter Rules.” (Twitter did not respond to RollingStone‘s request for comment.)

“I’ve never done anything on [Twitter] that’s even been flagged,” Mae tells RollingStone. “They also wiped out my following, which was over 1,000 followers. It is vital for myself and my business to have it. I violated nothing. It is bonkers. Unfortunately, when it comes to social media, these billionaires kind of run it and have their say, and they don’t care. They shut down pages in a heartbeat without rhyme or reason.”

The elder Newton is the son of two Holocaust survivors and based Beautiful Blue Eyes on his late father’s experiences. The film has endured a long journey to the big screen. In 2008, jaws icon Scheider died after battling multiple myeloma before the film’s completion. Due to a problem with one of the cameras, some shots were lost. Newton screened the film at some festivals in 2009 but set out to complete it as he originally envisioned. He used AI technology that became available in recent years to repair the damaged frames, allowing him to finally release the film theatrically.

The $700 million in damages derive from $100 million each for the breach of contract and fraud and detrimental reliance claims and $500 million from the emotional distress claim.

In their suit, the Newtons claim that Facebook’s ban “caused extreme emotional distress” and that their “lifelong efforts to continue the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, hundreds of them relatives, were dealt an irrecoverable blow in learning that without proper advertising the film would not reach the intended audience and their voices would essentially be silenced — thereby enabling Holocaust deniers to reach their goal — the exact opposition of the purpose of the film and the Community Standards promised by Facebook.”