Danny Elfman Hit With Defamation Lawsuit by Fellow Composer Who Accuses Him of Egregious Sexual Harassment

Danny Elfman and Nomi Abadi
Getty / Photo by Manny Ruiz

Composer Nomi Abadi is suing “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” composer Danny Elfman for defamation stemming from statements he made to Rolling Stone last year that were included in an investigative piece about a settlement he made with his one-time protégé after she accused him of repeated sexual harassment and misconduct.

Abadi’s lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Elfman “peddled appalling lies for publication to Rolling Stone about Nomi.” The list of alleged lies covers statements made by the “Simpsons” composer and his representatives that claimed he did not engage in sexual misconduct toward Abadi, never masturbated in front of her, never touched her inappropriately and “never placed his bodily fluids in a martini glass he presented to Nomi,” as she alleged. The complaint also slammed Elfman and his team for depicting Abadi as “a scorned woman seeking revenge and money to make Elfman “pay for having rejected her.” Abadi asserts that Elfman suggested that she “invited Elfman’s misconduct, including by requesting that he take nude pictures of her.” As a result, “Nomi’s career ambitions [were left] in tatters.”

The complaint, obtained by Variety, marks the latest salvo fired by Abadi, a classically trained pianist and on-the-rise composer, against Elfman, a prolific composer working in film and television and a founder of the pioneering New Wave band Oingo Boingo. Attorney Eric George, who represented Amber Heard in the early stages of her legal battles with ex-husband Johnny Depp, filed the suit on behalf of Abadi. George and Abadi declined comment.

Elfman is represented by Camille Vasquez, who made a name for herself by helping client Depp largely prevail over Heard in a televised 2022 Virginia trial. Representatives for Elfman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Elfman’s statements were part of a Rolling Stone story that published in July 2023. That story revealed that Elfman had entered into a previously unreported settlement and nondisclosure agreement with Abadi after she’d accused him of multiple instances of sexual harassment and misconduct that took place from 2015 to 2016. (Through an attorney, Elfman denied those allegation.) For the story, Rolling Stone reported that it unearthed an Los Angeles Police Department report filed by Abadi in which she alleged that Elfman exposed himself and masturbated multiple times in front of her without her consent. Rolling Stone also reported that Abadi was suing Elfman for failing to pay the full settlement amount of $830,000. Wednesday’s suit marks her second against Elfman filed in open court.

In October, a second woman accused Elfman of sexual misconduct in a lawsuit she filed as Jane Doe XX. The woman claimed in the complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, that Elfman exposed himself to her frequently during meetings that took place from 1997 to 2002. That suit described the woman as a 21-year-old “protégé” of Elfman’s when the alleged incidents began. (Elfman’s attorney called Jane Doe XX’s allegations “baseless and absurd.”)

In the suit filed Wednesday, Abadi contends that “Elfman coerced her into [posing nude]” when he was 61 and she was 26 and “masturbated in front of Nomi, afterwards apologizing to her and promising not to do so again.” The complaint also says that the Grammy and Emmy winner “inappropriately touched Nomi, afterwards apologizing to Nomi, and later threatened her in an attempt to keep his misdeeds a secret.” In the most bizarre subplot, Abadi’s suit insists that Elfman’s reps falsely denied that he put his semen in a martini glass and falsely claimed that Abadi knew that it was not semen. Elfman’s reps claimed in the Rolling Stone story that the glass was filled with the moisturizing cream Cetaphil, and that the Abadi knew it was a “stupid photo prop.” “In fact, Elfman had admitted to Nomi that he was presenting her with a glass full of semen,” the suit says.

Elfman’s narrative spread widely. “At least 20 high profile publications repeated his and his representatives’ defamations of Nomi,” the suit adds. As a result, job opportunities allegedly dried up for the fledgling composer, whose credits include a series of shorts and the 2023 film “Sebastian.” “Nomi has suffered PTSD, anxiety, depression, nervousness, and fear for her personal safety in the wake of online harassment spurred by these defamations,” the complaint says.

The power imbalance between the two would appear to be significant. Elfman, a four-time Oscar nominee who is represented by Kraft-Engel Management, remains one of the most sought-after composers in the industry. He created the instantly recognizable theme for “The Simpsons” and more recently Netflix’s “Wednesday.” Elfman, 71, is a frequent collaborator of Tim Burton’s who has scored most of his films including 1989’s “Batman” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and has also worked with everyone from Noah Baumbach to Sam Raimi. His upcoming films include Warner Bros.’ “Beetlejuice Bettlejuice.” Furthermore, the composing industry is tight-knit, male dominated and has no union. Mentorships are essential for young composers trying to find a foothold.

But the mentor-mentee relationship can be fraught with landmines. Abadi’s suit claims that Elfman frequently disrobed in what should have been a professional setting and “called nudity an important part of his creative process and insisted that a nude environment did not mean a sexual environment.” The complaint continues: “On more than one occasion, Defendant Elfman scolded Nomi for her beliefs that nudity is inappropriate in a studio environment and insisted that changing her conservative views about nudity would benefit her artistically.”

Elfman also “began to regularly answer the door to his studio in his robe with the front of the robe open, exposing his genitals,” the suit alleges, and showed his acolyte a gallery of images on his laptop of Elfman naked with naked women, referring to them as his “special friends.” “Defendant Elfman was eager to prove to Nomi that other women had been around him naked ‘artistically’ and ‘non-sexually’ and strongly encouraged that Nomi do a similar photoshoot with him,” the suit claims. “Nomi told Mr. Elfman that she felt the photos were stylistically appealing but felt uncomfortable with the idea. Defendant Elfman became irate with Nomi, once again chiding her for her modesty.”

During a group trip to Paris, Elfman persuaded Abadi to take part in a photo shoot that he dubbed artistic and non-sexual. But, according to the suit, he “suddenly grabbed his penis with one hand and grabbed Nomi by the wrist with his other hand, jamming her hand onto her genitals,” the complaint says. “Nomi was blindsided and terrified. Defendant Elfman vigorously began masturbating and instructed Nomi to do the same to herself. Nomi was terrified, frozen, and pretended to appease Defendant Elfman. Relieved that the moment was over within seconds, Nomi was stunned and shaken. Nomi recalls Defendant Elfman staring at her wide-eyed, as if surprised. Defendant Elfman then took the memory card out of Nomi’s camera and handed the empty camera back to Nomi, later saving the pictures onto his computer.  Defendant Elfman instructed Nomi ‘not to tell anyone about Paris’ or she would be ‘dead meat.’”

During one of their final encounters in 2016, a political conversation devolved into a shocking Elfman meltdown, the suit alleges. When Abadi expressed her fear of presidential candidate Donald Trump and her support for candidate Bernie Sanders, Elfman responded, “We can’t have a Jew running our country,” according to the suit. (Elfman is Jewish.) “The hours-long argument ended with Defendant Elfman screaming at Nomi, shaking his fist at her, red in the face,” the suit continues. “Nomi, already aware of Defendant Elfman’s temper, was terrified but remained calm. Defendant Elfman raised his voice at Nomi and screamed, ‘Fuck you and fuck your whole generation,’ at which point Nomi left his studio.”

Back in February 2023, Abadi spoke at a pre-Grammys press conference and noted that, although she is a Recording Academy member, she didn’t vote because the Grammy nominees list included “abusers.” Elfman was nominated for a Grammy for Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Other women who spoke at the press conference decried the use of NDAs, noting that they are used by powerful men to silence women in the music industry. 

Meanwhile, the matter of the LAPD report, which is not mentioned in today’s lawsuit, poses additional questions that remain unanswered. In its story last year, Rolling Stone cited details from the report, but noted that an LAPD representative “was unable to locate the report, and that the department has ‘no information to provide and no statement.’”

From Variety US