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Memories of a .... What?
Thursday, December 22, 2005   By: Mahone Dunbar

Memories of a Geisha - Plagerism charges rock Hollywood

Memoirs Of A Geisha: Plagiarism Charges Rock Hollywood

Poster for "Memories Of A Street Ho", the independent production that recently took top honors at the newly created Peachtree Urban Film Festival.


"Geisha" Competitor Provokes Charges Of Plagiarism

Paxety Entertainment News

Hollywood–Mahone Dunbar

In a Christmas season marked by unremarkable releases, and dominated by giant monkeys and talking lions, the arrival of Director Rob Marshall’s Memoirs Of A Geisha promised a novel mix of romance, exotic locations, and comprehensible story line.

Set in WWII, Geisha is based on the popular 1997 book which chronicles a young Japanese girl’s rise from poverty to riches and fame as a Geisha.

Now, the opening of Geisha is mired in controversy due to the simultaneous release of a competing film whose story line is so similar to that of Geisha that it has prompted charges of plagiarism to echo up and down the sequined halls of Hollywood. For the last few weeks, claims and counter-claims have been flying between the west coast, Hollywood, and the east, Atlanta--home of the independent film company Wuzup? Productions, which produced the rival movie "Memories Of A Street Ho." In what portends to be an epic battle between creative forces, Wuzup? Productions of Atlanta is David to Sony Picture’s Goliath.

Though "Memories Of A Street Ho" has been virtually ignored by such staples of the film world as the Toronto Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Canne Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival, it received top honors at the newly created Peachtree Urban Film Festival this fall. It was at PUFF that a friend of Arty Goldberg (attorney for Sony Pictures) took notice of the movie’s similarities to "Memoirs Of A Geisha" and brought it to Goldberg's attention. Said Goldberg, "I finally got a copy of the film and viewed it. We're talking very poor production values here. I assumed it was a student production, a film school project, and was shocked later to find out it was scheduled for general release. Not only that, but the story line so closely follows "Geisha" that it was clear to me they'd ripped off our screen play, only changing the names and adding a lot of X rated stuff. We've filed an injunction and fully intend to sue if they don't withdraw it from the market. The similarity of the film’s titles, the story line–the fact that they ripped off part of the plot and most of the substance of Geisha-- and their simultaneous release dates, make it clear that Wuzup? Productions has contrived to confuse audiences and ride our coattails."

When asked to comment on the injunction, and Goldberg's comments, Jerametrius Wilson, attorney of record for Wuzup? Productions and one-time protege of the late Johnny Cochran, replied, "If the plot don't stick . . . you cannot convict."

Goldberg also provided copies of Sony Picture’s press release synopsis of Geisha and a copy of Wuzup? Production’s synopsis of Street Ho, which, he said, "clearly demonstrated how brazen the rip off was."

(Sony Pictures: Memoirs Of A Geisha)

In the years before World War II, a Japanese child is torn from her penniless family to work at a geisha house. Despite a treacherous rival who nearly breaks her spirit, the girl blossoms into the legendary geisha Sayuri. Beautiful and accomplished, Sayuri captivates the most powerful men of her day, but is haunted by her secret love for the one man beyond her reach.

(Wuzup? Productions: Memories Of A Street Ho)

In the years of the second Gulf War, an Afro-American girl is torn from her broke-ass family to work as a street ho. Despite a treacherous rival who works the opposite street corner and nearly breaks her spirit by cutting her up, the girl blossoms into the legendary street ho, Shameena. Beautiful and cheaply priced, Shameena captivates the most powerful rap stars and drug moguls in her hood, but is haunted by her secret love for the one man beyond her reach: her baby’s daddy.

Despite this controversy, and others that have surrounded "Memories" (in the Atlanta press there were charges that the financing for "Memories" came from a crack dealer seeking to launder money; claims were also made by a disgruntled actress who had been fired from the production that a porno shoot was being made on the side), first time director Kelomi Smith managed to pull crew and actors together in a grueling schedule that saw the film completed in just eight days.

In spite of the film’s limited budget and relative ‘newcomer’ cast, it has garnered some positive criticism. Said, Siskel, of Siskel & Elbert, "The script, written by newcomers Deshon Johnson and his brother Tapharn Johnson, is beautiful in it’s sparse and novel use of dialogue, which has an almost Elmore Leonardish brevity that advances the plot with great fluidity. And though the X rating moves the film well beyond the grasp of family audiences, I give it a big thumbs up."

Chief screen writer DeShon Johnson and director Kelomi Smith were kind enough to answer a few questions about the controversy for Paxety Pages.

Paxety Pages: Mr. Johnson, admittedly, there are many parallels between the two scripts. To what do ascribe the similarities?

DJ: Environment.

Paxety Pages: Environment? Could you elaborate on that?

DJ: It sort of like parallel evolution, see-wut-I’m-sayin’, where two different animals develop in the same ways because of similar environments. See, a good street ho’s a lot like a Geisha; she’s got to be just as well trained. 'Cause their jobs are so similar, they got many of the same skill sets. This always intrigued me, so I did some in-depth research on the matter. A street ho’s got to know how to banter and bargain with clients, she has to be educated in various modes of STD prevention, she has to be conversant with various laws appertaining to her employment, and she has to be aware of a multiplicity of ways to meet diverse client needs, see-wut-I’m-sayin'. So, naturally, a street 'ho's story and a Geisha's story's going to be a lot alike.

Paxety Pages: So, you didn't rip off Geisha for your screenplay?

DJ: Oh, hell naw. Wasn't you listenin’? That’s a damned lie and them Hollywood fairies know it.

Paxety Pages: Kelomi, a question for you. Geisha experienced some controversy over ethnic casting. Though the story is set in Japan, and features an all Oriental cast, the main characters are portrayed by Chinese actresses. Was there a similar problem with Street Ho, since it’s cast is, save the portrayal of the Johns,’ primarily African-American?

KS: Oh yeah. Actually, we were contacted early on by Madonna, who was interested in the role of Shameena, sayin’ she had a spiritual affinity with the role.

Paxety Pages: And yet, though she’s famous, you turned her down?

KS: Frankly, Madonna wasn't black enough for the role.

DJ: Whoopi wanted in, too.

Paxety Pages: Whoopi Goldberg? Wouldn't the name recognition have helped your project? What was wrong with her?

KS: She had several drawbacks: Too black, too old, too skanky.

Paxety Pages: One last question: Since Sony has filed for an injunction against "Street Ho," do you plan any civil action of your own?

KS: Yeah. I plan some action, but it won't be very civil: I’m going to sic the Reverend Al Sharpton on they white ass. See how they like trying to shut down a young black entrepreneur then.

Memories Of A Street Ho

Scheduled for general release December 16, 2005


Produced by . . . Wuzup? Productions

Directed by . . . Kelomi Smith

Screen Play by . . . Deshon Johnson & Tapharn Johnson


Shanel Brown as . . . . . Shameena

Tarig Watson as . . . . . Kiefus

Ebora McKintosh as . . . Tratashia

Ranetta Randles as . . . . Bishetta

Ladanian Adams as . . . .Tarig

Kesha Winberg as . . . . Narkeshia

Double Dog as . . . . . . . .MC Dog

John Waterford as . . . . .John number one

Walter Rutherford as . . John number two

Robert Crumbley as . . . .John number three

And Special Guest Star . . . .Bernie Mac, as Rolly The Crackhead

Scheduled for general release December 16, 2005


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