Unfortunately, there’s already drama surrounding the long-awaited Aretha Franklin documentary, Amazing Grace. Producer Chiemi Karasawa has filed an arbitration case against director Alan Elliott, alleging that she is owed a producer fee and years’ worth of compensation.
According to Variety, Karasawa gave her side of the story. “I have not been paid a dime of my Producer Fee or the amounts that I am entitled to contractually,” she wrote. “I’m saddened that it’s come to this point, but thrilled that the film is being released for a public audience where it belongs.”
Karasawa explained that she came onto the project in 2010 and was instrumental in receiving access to the footage and getting it synced and digitized by a lab. All of this was done before the film had received funding. She states that she also developed the production budget, hired editor Jeff Buchanan, and supervised the editing of the film at New York’s Final Cut in 2011.
Karasawa was involved in even more behind-the-scenes work, including editing the fundraising trailer with Buchanan, traveling to Cannes to pitch the film to potential investors, and hosting screenings for the film industry between 2011 and 2012, which led to the film’s premiere at DOC NYC.
Elliot’s attorney, Vincent Cox, only told Variety: “The dispute is going to be resolved through arbitration.”
This is also not the first time Elliot has been taken to court over this film, according to Variety. In 2011 and 2015, Franklin’s lawyers blocked the film’s release twice, the latter time happened when Elliott tried to show the film at the Telluride Film Festival. Franklin’s estate and Elliott reached an understanding after Franklin’s 2018 death.
It’s a shame that money issues are threatening to overshadow the positivity of Amazing Grace, since the focus should be on the years’ worth of work it took to secure the 1972 footage of Franklin’s two performances at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. The film’s original director, Sydney Pollack, never released the film because of technical issues and other factors.
Aramide A. Tinubu viewed the documentary for Shadow And Act, and wrote in her review how the film is one “that music lovers, believers, and everyone else desperately needs to see.”
“From the moment her fingers begin moving across the piano keys, and certainly, in the instances where Franklin’s vocals are isolated–the choir band, and audience suddenly silenced in the background–Amazing Grace is a glorious experience highlighting at its core what’s so pure and welcoming about the Black church,” she wrote.