A Real Life Nun Claimed That ‘Sister Act’ Stole Her Life Story

Minus the ‘hiding from the mob’ part
A Real Life Nun Claimed That ‘Sister Act’ Stole Her Life Story

Whoopi Goldberg has made a lot of great movies over the years — and at least one terrible talking dinosaur movie — but arguably the peak of her cinematic career was Sister Act. The blockbuster 1992 comedy was a box-office sensation, immediately spawning a sequel and, eventually, a stage musical adaptation. It’s easily the best ‘90s comedy in which the protagonist disguises themselves as a nun and takes up residence in a convent to hide from angry mobsters (apologies, Eric Idle). 

But one real life nun wasn’t exactly thrilled with the movie, and not just because it made it seem like it was super-easy to scam your way into getting free room and board from the Catholic Church. In 2011, Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely sued the Walt Disney Corporation and Sony Pictures, representing herself, with “allegations of breach of contract, misappropriation of likeness, unjust enrichment and other claims.”

According to the lawsuit, Blakely was a “young, Black, singing nun serving the street people and youths of Harlem,” as evidenced in her autobiography, The Harlem Street Nun, which was written in 1987. Blakely claimed that she sent out a movie treatment for a potential adaptation of her life story to studios that included Tri-Star, which, she alleged, is where Sister Act originated. 

Also, the name of Goldberg’s character, Deloris, is just one letter away from “Delois.” But while the part was ultimately played by Goldberg, Sister Act was initially offered to white singer Bette Midler, who turned it down, telling producers: “My fans don’t want to see me in a wimple.” This, of course, doesn’t invalidate Blakely’s claims, lest we forget the time that studio executives suggested Julia Roberts for the role of Harriet Tubman

While Blakely voluntarily dismissed this case, the following year she filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the filmmakers arguing that they used “the plaintiff’s actual life experiences without her permission or authorization, thereby irreparably damaging her by depriving her of the windfall of financial gain reaped by defendants.” As Blakely told reporters at the time, Goldberg’s “feisty character is loosely based on my life,” suggesting that the hit musical kept her case well within the statute of limitations.

The New York Supreme Court ended up dismissing the lawsuit “with prejudice” in 2013, not necessarily because the filmmakers didn’t borrow elements of Blakely’s life for the film, but because, even if that were the case, “the New York statutes and common law do not support plaintiff’s claim.” They didn’t even get into the fact that the real “Deloris” didn’t have to escape from the mob at any point in her life. 

Despite the ruling, Blakely still advertised her autobiography as “the TRUE STORY of Sister Act when it was eventually published.

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