Barbara Chase-Riboud is the author of Echo
of Lions, a book which she claimed was illegally appropriated by
the writers of the motion picture Amistad.
Chase-Riboud is a sculptor,
poet, and author of historical fiction. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
in 1949, Ms. Chase-Riboud is an African-American expatriate -- she lives
in Paris, France, and Rome, Italy. Chase-Riboud earned a master's in fine
arts from the Yale School of Art and Architecture. In 1979, her first novel,
Sally Hemings, won the Kafka Award for the best novel written by
an American woman. Sally Hemings was the story of Thomas Jefferson's
slave and sometimes mistress, who allegedly bore him a daughter. Her second
historical novel, Valide: A Novel of the Harem, focused on the slavery-like
conditions of the harem in the Ottoman Empire. The first two novels were
essentially non-fiction portrayals of historical periods. Her third novel,
Echo of Lions, represented a greater foray into story-making and
story-telling, as Ms. Chase-Riboud began using fictionalized characters
and incidents to meld the events of the Amistad incident into a
In 1988, her book of poetry,
Portrait of a Nude Woman as Cleopatra, won the Carl Sandburg Prize.
In 1994, she returned to the story of the Hemings family. The main character
of The President's Daughter is Harriet Hemings, the daughter that
Sally Hemings bore, allegedly fathered by President Thomas Jefferson. It
follows Sally Hemings through most of the 19th century, during which she
crosses paths with the great figures and great events of that tumultuous
period. She has written book reviews for the Washington Post.
Chase-Ribound is no stranger to copyright infringement litigation, and
she has been successful in the past. Several years ago, she proved that
the play "Dusky Sally" by Granville Burgess infringed the copyrights
to her historical novel Sally Hemmings.
Although Amistad debuted
in the United States in early December 1997, it was not scheduled to debut
in most European countries until February. Dreamworks plans to debut the
film in France on February 25, 1998. Ms. Chase-Riboud lost her bid for
a preliminary injunction in the United States, but this ruling, made under
U.S. copyright law, has no formal effect in France. Accordingly, Ms. Chase-Riboud
is suing to enjoin the French release of the film. France takes a starkly
different view of intellectual property rights than the United States.
French copyright law is grounded in the notion of "moral rights," and generally
gives original authors significantly more protection than U.S. law. On
Monday, January 26, Ms. Chase-Riboud's French lawyer said that they would
wait until later in the week to formally file suit. He said he was waiting
to see if settlement talks between Chase-Riboud and Dreamworks in the U.S.