Legal and Management

Shelter Island Resident Sues Over Filming of Beyoncé Movie 'Black Is King' Near Sacred Slave Burial Ground

Beyonce
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage

Beyonce Knowles-Carter attends the European Premiere of "The Lion King" at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on July 14, 2019 in London.

A Shelter Island, New York, resident is suing the Town of Shelter Island and 18 Shelter Island individuals -- including the town attorney, supervisor, clerk and members of its board -- for allowing the filming of Beyoncé movie Black Is King at a former "provisioning plantation.” The “place of enslavement,” according to the lawsuit, contains the unmarked graves of 200 former African slaves and the filming took place without obtaining the requisite permit or holding a public hearing.

According to his 21-page complaint filed Sept. 22 in New York Supreme Court, Michael Gaynor alleges that in the summer of 2019, Disney secretly filmed Black is King starring Beyoncé Knowles-Carter on Sylvester Manor Educational Farm (SMEF). The educational farm was created on 240 acres of land that once belonged to Nathaniel Sylvester, a slave trader, who established his headquarters there for his family’s international slave trading and sugarcane plantations, according to Gaynor’s complaint. Eben Ostby, a descendant of Sylvester, inherited the plantation in 1992 and dedicated the land to conservation. The property, which is listed in the National Register of Historic places, contains the remains of over 200 African slaves and Manhasset Indians in unmarked graves.

Gaynor alleges that the town and SMEF secretly “colluded to quietly allow Disney and Beyoncé to film the movie on SMEF’s sacred lands without going through the traditional public permit process in order to assure the secrecy."

Gaynor also alleges in his court filing that the town board members and SMEF employees were asked to sign an NDA. He said the secret agreement is in violation of the town’s bylaws which require a production company to obtain a film permit through a process that allows for public comment. Gaynor said in exchange for allowing the filming, SMEF and the town "received a substantial fee.”

Gaynor also notes in his complaint that he has been locked in a bitter dispute with town officials since he bought his property on the island in 2018.

A source tells Billboard, that Disney, who purchased the finished film for Disney+, was not involved in the permit process or the filming of this movie.

Richard Zuckerman, the attorney representing the town, tells Billboard that Gaynor’s allegation the town received a secret payment from Disney is an act of retaliation after town officials refused to spend $2 million to purchase property from Gaynor.

“His accusations are, in my opinion, false and preposterous,” says Zuckerman.

Zuckerman says the town learned of the shoot at the manor after an article was written about it in the local paper, The Shelter Island Reporter. He says that when they learned that no permit or application for a permit had been requested, town officials met with Sylvester Manor, which apologized for the mistake. The town board decided that a fine was not necessary as long as the permit fee was fully paid, which it was, says Zuckerman.

A rep for Beyoncé has not responded to Billboard’s request for comment.

UPDATE: This article was updated at 6:50 p.m. EST to include comment from Richard Zuckerman, the attorney representing the Town of Shelter Island. 

Everyone Is Freaking Out Over Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' | Billboard News