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Fans can sue over trailer that featured a cut character, says court

Fans can sue over trailer that featured a cut character, says court


Ana de Armas was cut from Yesterday, and fans say a trailer featuring her was deceptive.

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Yesterday (Danny Boyle film)
Himesh Patel in Yesterday
Image: Tribeca Film Festival

A trailer for Danny Boyle’s film Yesterday might count as false advertising for including a character — played by Ana de Armas — who was cut from the film. As reported by Variety yesterday, a California court is allowing parts of a lawsuit against Universal City Studios to proceed over Universal’s objections. The ruling finds trailers are commercial speech advertising the content of a film and not, as Universal argued, artistic expression that receives full First Amendment protections.

Ana de Armas was originally part of a love triangle in Yesterday, a romantic comedy about a man who wakes up in a world where The Beatles never existed, then shoots to superstardom by appropriating their songs. According to CinemaBlend, she was cut because audiences reacted poorly to the protagonist straying from his central relationship — in the trailer, he “writes” The Beatles’ “Something” for de Armas’ character on a talk show, upsetting his love interest back home. The scene was deleted from the final cut.

In its defense, Universal argued the lawsuit would “open the floodgates” to cases from moviegoers who felt deceived by a trailer in more subjective ways. It’s not uncommon for trailers to feature scenes that were left on the cutting room floor or never included in the first place; as Variety notes, a famous trailer for Jurassic Park doesn’t include any footage from the film. Studios have also fought more ambiguous legal claims about trailers, like a complaint that (among other things) the Ryan Gosling film Drive was falsely advertised as having more car chases. And the court agreed with Universal on trimming some claims from the suit, letting a California Unfair Competition Law claim proceed but not one under the federal Lanham Act, for instance.

But the ruling is sympathetic to a central argument that trailers are intended to promote a movie, comparing them to product commercials rather than simply short expressive films. Under that logic, it says, an appearance from a star like de Armas could be misleading if she doesn’t appear in the film. The fact that she’s depicted as part of a love triangle distinguishes her from a “fleeting background extra” or a cameo, backing up fans’ claims that they could reasonably expect to see her. The suit remains ongoing, so the results may not end up favoring de Armas aficionados — but in a media ecosystem where fans pore over every detail of a trailer, the decision might have longer-lasting effects.