Khodorkovskaya v. Gay, No. 20-7018 (D.C. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Inna Khodorkovskaya sued the director and the playwright of Kleptocracy, a play that ran for a month in 2019 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. She alleged false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Inna, who was a character in Kleptocracy, alleges that the play falsely depicted her as a prostitute and murderer. Inna’s husband was persecuted because of his opposition to Vladimir Putin; the two obtained asylum in the U.K.
The district court dismissed her complaint, reasoning that Kleptocracy is a fictional play, even if inspired by historical events, and that the play employed various dramatic devices underscoring its fictional character so that no reasonable audience member would understand the play to communicate that the real-life Inna was a prostitute or murderer. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. “Kleptocracy is not journalism; it is theater. It is, in particular, a theatrical production for a live audience, a genre in which drama and dramatic license are generally the coin of the realm.” The play’s use of a fictional and metaphorical tiger, of Vladimir Putin reciting poetry, and of a ghost reinforce to the reasonable audience member that the play’s contents cannot be taken literally.