The Last Black Unicorn is Headed to Court
By Britney M. Williams
Comedian, actress, and vivacious personality Tiffany Haddish may have landed herself in a bit of hot water, with her book “The Last Black Unicorn” at the center of the controversy. The New York Times Best Seller “The Last Black Unicorn” is a collection of essays that reflect on Tiffany’s upbringing in the neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles and how she used comedy as a tool to cope with her struggles. In one particular chapter, “The Ex-Husband,” Tiffany describes the abuse she endured during her marriage. However, according to her ex-husband, William Stewart, the claims of choking, kidnapping and stalking are all false. As a result, in 2018, Stewart filed a lawsuit against Haddish for defamation, libel and slander. And recently, a Texas judge has set a trial date for April 20, 2020.
What is defamation, libel, and slander? Specifically, what do you need to know to make sure your shade doesn’t turn into slander? First, it’s important to note that defamation is a civil liability claim, meaning the likely outcome will be a monetary award rather than a jail sentence. In a defamation suit, someone (the plaintiff) is claiming an injury to their reputation caused by another’s (the defendant) actions. A defamatory statement is not an opinion, but an assertion of fact that negatively affects someone’s reputation. Further, to be defamatory, the statement has to be false. So, if Tiffany is telling the truth about her experience with her ex-husband in her book, then he has no defamation claim even if it portrays him in a negative light and may damage his reputation.
Many are unaware, but libel and slander are forms of defamation. Libel is written defamation and slander is spoken defamation. In other words, if the alleged defamatory statements are written, in a newspaper for example, then it is considered libel. If the alleged defamatory statements are verbally spoken, on a tv show for example, then it is considered slander.
Defamation laws vary from state to state. But for the most part, three elements must be proved for a statement to be considered defamatory. First, the defendant must make a defamatory statement that specifically identifies the plaintiff. Meaning, the statement must identify the plaintiff by name, position or any other way you can identify someone. In her book, Tiffany did not name her ex-husband. However, he is clearly identifiable because he’s the only person she’s ever been married to. If Tiffany would’ve simply named the chapter “The Ex” she probably wouldn’t be facing a defamation suit.
The second element that must be met is publication, the defamatory statement must be published in some form. Published in this sense means that the statement was shared with one person other than the plaintiff. The statement can be shared in a book, in a magazine, on tv, through gossip or even on IG Live. The more people the defendant shares the statement with, the more damage to plaintiff’s reputation, resulting in a higher monetary award.
The third element is damages, the defamatory statement must have caused quantifiable injury to the plaintiff. For example, the plaintiff may have lost their job or may have lost potential jobs as a result of the defamatory statements. For his harm, Stewart is seeking over $1 million in damages.
Tiffany’s Response. Last year Tiffany addressed the controversial statements in her book via social media. She admitted that parts of the book may have been exaggerated during the editing process. She went on to state that she corrected the inconsistencies in her audiobook. Seems as if the audiobook corrections weren’t enough for Stewart as the case is still headed to trial. Hopefully, the ex-spouses come to an amicable solution before their April 20, 2020 court date.