Why Priscilla‘s Depiction of Elvis Is Sparking Controversy

4 minute read

Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, which traverses the life of Priscilla Presley and her complex relationship with Elvis Presley, has been contentious since the film was announced. This week, Variety reported that before her death this year, Elvis and Priscilla’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley sent Coppola emails expressing her disapproval of the way her father is portrayed in the movie, based on the scripts she reviewed. Lisa Marie asked Coppola to revise her father’s depiction in the movie for the sake of her family, calling the script “shockingly vengeful and contemptuous.”

Priscilla follows the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla, which started when she was 14 and he was 24. The film is based on Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir Elvis and Me and received her co-sign. “It’s very difficult to sit and watch a film about you and about your life and about your love,” Priscilla said at a news conference for the film during the Venice Film Festival, adding that Coppola did an “amazing job.” But the emails from Lisa Marie to Coppola make it clear that not everyone in the Presley family was on board.

According to Variety, in one email sent in Sept. 2022, before the movie began filming, Lisa Marie wrote, “My father only comes across as a predator and manipulative. As his daughter, I don’t read this and see any of my father in this character. I don’t read this and see my mother’s perspective of my father. I read this and see your shockingly vengeful and contemptuous perspective and I don’t understand why?” She warned that she would speak out against the project and her mother, who supported the film. “I will be forced to be in a position where I will have to openly say how I feel about the film and go against you, my mother, and this film publicly.”

In response, Coppola said she hoped Lisa Marie would change her mind after she got to see a final cut of the film. “I hope that when you see the final film, you will feel differently, and understand I’m taking great care in honoring your mother, while also presenting your father with sensitivity and complexity.” An unnamed source told Variety that by the time filming began in Oct. 2022, about 10 pages were cut from the original script. 

Lisa Marie said that she was worried that she was feeling protective of her mother and was worried that Priscilla wouldn’t “understand the intentions behind this film or the outcome it will have.”

The emails, revealed in Variety as Priscilla opens in theaters on Nov. 3, highlighted the complicated connection between the movie and the Presley estate. Just a few weeks after Lisa Marie’s death in Jan. 2023, Prisiclla asked a judge to confirm that she was a trustee of her late daughter's estate. A 2016 document showed that Priscilla and Barry Siegel, her daughter’s former manager, who she sued for $100 million for mismanaging her finances, were removed from the will as co-trustees. They were replaced by Lisa Marie’s two children, Riley and Benjamin Keough, who died by suicide in July 2020. In May, Priscilla said the legal dispute was settled out of court. Riley Keough then asked to be made the sole trustee of her mother’s estate. In August, the court approved Lisa Marie’s daughter petition and on Wednesday, the two reached a settlement which sees Priscilla getting a $1 million lump sum payment from Lisa Marie’s $25 million life insurance policy and $100,000 a year, “for her role as special advisor of the promenade trust related to its shareholder interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises, a non-fiduciary role,” PEOPLE reports.

The ensuing legal drama made it seem like there was a rift between grandmother and granddaughter, but both Priscilla and Riley have dispelled those rumors in multiple quotes to the press. Priscilla said in an interview that she and Riley were on “good terms” and explained that the matter of power over one’s estate is “not something to fool around with.” Riley echoed that statement to Vanity Fair saying, “Anything that would suggest otherwise in the press makes me sad because, at the end of the day, all she wants is to love and protect Graceland and the Presley family and the legacy.”

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com