LOS ANGELES Denzel Washington's character in "Flight" drinks a lot throughout the film, but his portrayal of a highly functioning alcoholic pilot isn't being welcomed by brewing company Anheuser-Busch (BUD) or the distributor of Stolichnaya vodka.
Anheuser-Busch said Monday that it has asked Paramount Pictures to obscure or remove the Budweiser logo from the film, which at one point shows Washington's character drinking the beer while behind the wheel.
Budweiser is hardly the only alcoholic beverage shown in "Flight," which earned $25 million in its debut weekend. Washington's character frequently drinks vodka throughout the film, with several different brands represented. William Grant & Sons, which distributes Stolichnaya in the United States, also said it didn't license its brand for inclusion in the film and wouldn't have given permission if asked.
Rob McCarthy, vice president of Budweiser, wrote in a statement that the company wasn't contacted by Paramount or the production company of director Robert Zemeckis for permission to use the beer in "Flight."
"We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving," McCarthy wrote. "We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters."
A spokesman for Zemeckis referred questions to Paramount, which did not return an email message seeking comment.
James Curich, a spokesman for Stoli distributor William Grant & Sons, said the company has a strict code for how the vodka is portrayed in films and is committed to marketing it responsibly. "Considering the subject matter of this film, it is not something in which we would have participated," he wrote in an email.
Despite the companies' dissatisfaction with their inclusion in the film, experts say there is little they can do about it legally.
Trademark laws "don't exist to give companies the right to control and censor movies and TV shows that might happen to include real-world items," said Daniel Nazer, a resident fellow at Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project. "It is the case that often filmmakers get paid by companies to include their products. I think that's sort of led to a culture where they expect they'll have control. That's not a right the trademark law gives them."
Jay Dougherty, a professor at Loyola Law School, said the use of brands in films has generally been protected by the courts, even when the companies aren't pleased with the portrayals. "It wouldn't have been effective as film if we used a bunch of non-generic brands," said Doughterty, who is also the director of the school's Entertainment & Media Law Institute. "In a normal situation, if the alcohol were just there as a smaller part of the movie, they might have created an artificial brand for it."
Other vodka brands, including Absolut and Smirnoff, are also included in the film. Representatives of those companies did not return messages seeking comment.