LOS ANGELES: A national Sikh advocacy group has threatened legal action against Miramax over a new comedy that it claims unfairly links Sikhs with Muslim terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Dysfunktional Family, which stars stand-up comic Eddie Griffin, opened in theaters two weeks ago. Sikh Media Watch and Resource Task Force (SMART) is upset over a brief clip in the film in which Griffin points out an elderly Sikh man and calls him Osama bin Laden.
SMART has been in contact with Miramax's publicity department since February, when a trailer containing the clip began airing in theaters. SMART spokesman Preetmohan Singh said that the group asked Miramax for a screening so that SMART could understand the clip in the context of the entire film. Miramax ultimately declined the request after weeks of talks.
"We went back and forth and got the sense this was leading nowhere," said Singh. "That's when we started to pursue other channels."
The group hired a law firm, which Singh said is considering legal action if any hate crimes can be linked to the film. The group has also placed the story in ethnic media outlets and sent an advisory to Sikh communities across the country.
A press release from SMART read in part, "SMART also contacted the agent and manager for the film's lead actor, Eddie Griffin. Given Miramax's lack of appropriate response to SMART's requests for a screening, SMART began consulting with its legal team. On March 27, a letter from the [law] firm to Miramax stated that 'if Miramax does not take prompt and appropriate action prior to the release of the film, Miramax, together with other responsible entities, will be held accountable.'"
After September 11, hate crimes spiked in the US, including the murder of a Sikh gas-station owner in Arizona by a man who associated the Sikh with terrorism. Sikhism is a religion originating in India, and is not related in any way to Islam. SMART estimates that 99% of turban-wearers in America are Sikh, rather than Muslim, and has waged an aggressive education campaign to explain the religion to Americans. Part of that campaign involves monitoring media for misconceptions and inaccuracies.
"While we hold the First Amendment in the highest regard, we want to ensure that Miramax demonstrates corporate and social responsibility," said Singh.
Miramax SVP of publicity Matthew Hiltzik said the studio understood SMART's concerns, but stands by the film.
"Eddie Griffin is an equal-opportunity comic getting laughs at everyone's expense, including his own mother and his family. People come to this film to laugh," he said.
The movie made slightly more than $1 million in its first week of release.