A teacher and her former students have filed suit against Disney and its television subsidiary, ABC-TV, claiming their names and computer-altered likenesses were used in a Saturday morning children’s show in a “demeaning and degrading” fashion without their permission, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Kathleen Foresman and four of her students from a 1975 class at Woodbridge Middle School in Virginia claim their yearbook photos were used without their permission to illustrate a pretend dialog between a teacher and her students for “Mrs. Munger’s Class,” a 90-second segment that aired each week on ABC’s Disney’s One Saturday Morning. In the show, computer-generated lips that make them talk were superimposed on their mouths.
“This is about a number of people whose sixth-grade photographs are being utilized on a national television show in which they are made to say racially offensive things,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Neville Johnson.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for defamation, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress in a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Dec. 23. In response to the suit, Disney has canceled “Mrs. Munger’s Class,” spokesman Ken Green said.
Edward Jackson, Theodore Falce, Michael Link, Michael Blevins, and Foresman contend the show portrayed them in a “demeaning and degrading fashion.” The show’s former art director, Eric Mahady, reportedly was a classmate of the defendants and supplied the yearbook photo to the show.
Attorney Johnson said Link, who is Asian, was taunted as a child by stereotypical comments. In the show he is taunted by “karate chops” and other things that have caused emotional stress. “Now it’s coming back with horrible memories,” Johnson said.
Falce is mocked in the show as the character “Teddy,” the attorney said. His photo is superimposed with a wig and a girl’s dress, which the claim states is “highly offensive.” The suit also says he is portrayed as stupid and slow. In the sixth grade, Falce was placed in a special reading class, AP reported.
Jackson, also a former student, is black, and the suit claims he is “made to be a new ‘Buckwheat’ and class clown, and to speak in a manner that is demeaning to African Americans.”
According to the suit, Foresman did give the show permission to use her photo, but she was “falsely induced to sign a grant of rights to use her name and likeness.” Foresman has filed a separate claim for fraud, her attorney said. None of her former students were contacted for their permission, according to the suit.
The suit also claims that Disney used the “names and likenesses of plaintiffs to seduce youngsters to provide the company with information.” That information reportedly is used to market products to children.
The show’s web page was pulled off the Disney internet site in response to a demand letter, Johnson said. Disney’s subsequent decision to cancel the show was announced Dec. 29.
“Because it apparently bothers some people and because from a creative standpoint it isn’t that important . . . to the entire Saturday show, we felt that the best course would be to simply delete it from the Saturday lineup,” Green told the Washington Post.
But Disney officials maintain the company was “well within our rights to keep it on the air,” he said, even though the students claim they were never asked for permission to use their images.
The Disney Co.