Songstress Mariah Carey enjoyed debut author success when her long-awaited memoir hit bookshelves last September. But the memoir that dives deep into how she found her voice in what she calls an abusive family environment has led to lawsuits from her siblings.
While promoting The Meaning of Mariah Carey with Oprah Winfrey on an Apple TV+ special last fall, Mariah said after years of therapy she calls Alison her “ex-sister” and Morgan her “ex-brother.” Her so-called former siblings now are suing her in New York Supreme Court over allegedly false and defamatory claims.
News broke this week that Morgan Carey, Mariah’s older brother, filed a lawsuit on March 3 against Mariah, co-author Michaela Angela Davis, Andy Cohen of Bravo fame whose imprint published the book, and Macmillan Publishers that owns Andy Cohen Books. Mariah’s older sister, Alison Carey, also had filed her own lawsuit on Feb. 3 solely against Mariah.
In the memoir, the singer describes several alleged violent interactions with her siblings. From the descriptions, lawsuits were expected, but it begs the question of how a memoirist can write her own story and portray real-life characters the way she interpreted their behavior and personality.
What Are the Allegations?
First, in Alison’s two-page complaint, she is representing herself and asking the court to have her sister pay $1.25 million in damages plus money for legal costs. She has issue with the chapter in Mariah’s memoir called “Dandelion Tea,” which is dedicated to Mariah’s allegedly dangerous experiences with her sister, who she claims tossed boiling hot water on her when she was 12 years old that made her black out and develop third-degree burns.
Alison says she was a troubled preteen, but she blames their mother, Patricia Carey, for allegedly forcing her to “attend terrifying middle-of-the-night satanic worship meetings that included ritual sacrifices and sexual activity.” Alison goes on to write that she has been diagnosed with a series of mental and physical health diseases. She says Mariah “used her status to attack her penniless sister” and “callously dismisses” her as an ex-sister.
Morgan also references in his lawsuit about being called publicly by Mariah as her ex-brother. He claims Mariah falsely depicted him as a “physically violent man.” In his own words, he alleges their father, Alfred Roy Carey, was the abuser and the reason he was placed in a children’s psychiatric center, a revelation Morgan says is an invasion of privacy. He says he believes he was portrayed as a stereotypical violent Black male for Mariah to “play the victim card and curry favor with the Black Lives Matter movement.” As part of the lawsuit, he attached a page of photos from over Mariah’s career of them together appearing happy to dispute his sister’s allegations.
Memory or Mismemory?
Memoirists have to reach for memories and describe those memories and the meaning behind what happened and how it impacted their lives. But as humans our minds may misinterpret an old memory and transform it. That’s a concern that impacts any writer writing their own true story.
“This is because memory is not just about retrieving stored information,” reads a Scientific American article on the unintentional phenomenon of misremembering, or the act of remembering incorrectly. “Our minds normally construct memories using a blend of remembered experiences and knowledge about the world. Our memories can be frazzled, though, by new experiences that end up tangling the past and the present.”
Should a writer discuss what they plan to tell in their story with people who will have a major appearance? It’s a question about how much to reveal about someone and how similar are the memories you share with that someone to ensure the right description makes it into the book. But if you’re not close to that particular someone, then reaching out can get murky. Also, reaching out could mean that someone wants their name and any reference to the event they’re mentioned in to be out of the book, subtracting some of the author’s freedom to express their story.
Your Truth or Their Truth?
Both of Mariah’s siblings say they weren’t contacted by the press for their sides of the story nor were given a copy of the unpublished book to verify any information.
There are memoirs, especially celebrity ones, that share private information about others without substituting names. Actress Demi Moore in her 2019 memoir Inside Out, for example, wrote she had taken actor Jon Cryer’s virginity. This aspect, of course, exploded in the media, but Jon issued a correction on Twitter saying he lost his virginity in high school before meeting Demi.
For Demi, her mismemory was forgiven though it involved sexual information that’s usually preferred to remain private.
Who Will Win?
When the lawsuits spill in claiming false and defamatory statements after a memoir is published, it’s hard to say how the court battle will go down. Most lawsuits head toward settlement as in we may never hear the result of the settlement if Mariah and her siblings believe that’s the best route to resolution.
In 2003, Augusten Burroughs published his memoir, Running with Scissors, that mentioned his time living with a family that he gave a fictional name. In the family’s chapter, he recounts abuse, drug use, and overall dysfunction. The real family filed a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit against the author and his publisher St. Martin’s Press. The author argued his memories were as accurate as he remembered, therefore what he wrote was true. The $2 million lawsuit settled outside of court with the author saying in his apology that the family’s memories were “different from my own,” The New York Times reported in 2007. The memoir became a movie starring Alec Baldwin and Annette Bening.
Mariah told The Hollywood Reporter in December amid her Apple TV+ Christmas special that she’s in talks to adapt her memoir for the screen. This is before the lawsuits were filed that may or may not impact any future projects, especially around the division of profits if that becomes part of the probable settlements.
If you are working on a memoir and worried about your memories sparking lawsuits, here are some resources to check out:
A Writer’s Guide to Defamation and Invasion of Privacy, Writer’s Digest
How Not to Get Sued for Your Memoir, HuffPost
Writing Memoirs—What You Need to Know to Avoid Being Sued, Self Publishing School