From the Philadelphia Enquirer
An advocacy group for African religions contends that the Sci Fi Channel series degrades the religion.
By Joseph A. Slobodzian
Inquirer Staff Writer
A Philadelphia-based advocacy group for African religions yesterday sued Universal Studios and producers for cable’s Sci Fi Channel, contending that a forthcoming “reality series” demeans and misrepresents the voodoo religion.
The federal lawsuit filed by the National African Religion Congress Inc. against Universal Studios Inc., USA Cable Entertainment, and House of Eleven Productions seeks a court order requiring the producers of Mad Mad House to change their advertising and programming.
“People already have negative feelings about this religion without a program like this exacerbating things,” said George Ware, president of the five-year-old congress. The congress claims 4,500 members representing such religions as Akan, the Orisa Tradition of Trinidad and Tobago, Ifa, Santeria-Yoruba, voodoo, Candomble and Lucumi, including 500 in the tristate Philadelphia area.
In promotions in print and on cable, Sci Fi describes Mad Mad House, premiering March 4, as a reality series in which “10 everyday people” move into a house run by “five genuine practitioners of alternative lifestyles.”
The “Alts” – a vampire, Wiccan, naturist, voodoo priestess and modern primitive – put their 10 guests through “tolerance testing activities,” one promotion says, and then vote weekly to decide who is banished and who ultimately wins a $100,000 prize.
The lawsuit contends that the program’s voodoo priestess, Iya Ta’Shia Asanti, is actually a priestess of “Yemoja in the Ifa tradition,” a faith of the Yoruba people of Africa.
Asanti does not dress as a voodoo priestess, the lawsuit continues, and a commercial showing participants being placed into a pit and covered with animal parts and entrails does not represent voodoo or Ifa.
A spokesman for producers Arthur Smith and Kent Weed in Los Angeles referred questions to Universal’s offices for the Sci Fi Channel in New York. Kat Stein, a senior vice president for communications, said she could not comment on the suit before consulting with the channel’s lawyers.
The lawsuit contends that producers reached an agreement with Asanti only after Gro Mambo Angela Novanyon, a recognized Haitian voodoo high priestess in Philadelphia who founded the congress, refused to participate in Mad Mad House.
The lawsuit asks for a federal judge to require the producers of Mad Mad House to properly identify Asanti as an Ifa, not a voodoo, priestess and prohibit them from “airing any episode… that falsely portrays any practice of African-based religions.”