A New York Native American tribe says that an episode of Showtime’s “Billions” defamed them by enforcing stereotypes that portray them as a corrupt illegal casino-running criminals, according to a new lawsuit.
The Cayuga Nation and one of the five tribe leaders, Clint Halftown, filed the Manhattan Supreme Court suit following the May 5 airing of the episode — which used their names without asking permission, the tribe claimed.
Meanwhile, the show — which has the highest viewership of the network’s series — uses fictitious names for the rest of the parts including the main character, based on hedge funder Steven Cohen, who was given the fictitious name Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, the court papers say.
“Indeed, the Defendants, using the exact names ‘Cayuga’ and ‘Halftown,’ chose instead to portray the Nation and Mr. Halftown as being involved in unscrupulous dealings and even criminal conduct,” the lawsuit charges later stating the show’s “sole goal was to earn millions at the Plaintiffs’ expense.”
The episode allegedly makes references to the New York tribe owing casinos, even though in reality the tribe doesn’t run casinos nor have the rights to.
Instead, the tribe runs two electronic gaming facilities that have games like bingo, the court documents explain.
This misrepresentation regarding the tribe’s business dealings could even hurt their pending application with the federal government to convert their land into a trust, the suit claims.
And the episode’s character “Halftown” is portrayed by a woman who is depicted threatening and bribing a politician, which damages the reputation of Halftown, the suit alleges.
“Among the offensive and defamatory characterizations of the Cayuga Nation and Mr. Halftown put forth in this episode of Billions are: an illegal casino land deal, participation in bribery of a public official, and a resort to blackmail, all of which are patently offensive and defamatory,” the court documents claim.
“What these one million viewers — and now countless others — have seen…in this episode of Billions is a deliberate and intentional resort to an offensive stereotype of Native Americans as irresponsible, corruptible, and even criminal thereby exposing the Cayuga Nation and Mr. Halftown to public contempt, aversion, and disgrace,” the court papers charge.
The suit demands the show be barred from referencing both the Cayuga Nation and Halftown again. They are also seeking unspecified compensation for the alleged damage to their reputations.
Two co-creators and a writer on the show are named as defendants along with Showtime Networks Inc.
The network declined to comment.