The federal suit was filed Monday in New Jersey against the writers and producers of "Out of the Furnace." The suit claims the film makes false representations about the people who live in the Ramapo Mountains along the New York-New Jersey border about 25 miles west of New York City.
It claims that unsavory characters in the film have last names that are common among the Ramapough and that it perpetuates negative and unfounded stereotypes.
Relativity Media, which released the film this month, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. But a representative told other news outlets that the company couldn't comment because it hadn't seen or had time to review the suit.
The movie stars Christian Bale as a man trying to find his missing brother, who has gotten involved with a bare-knuckle fighting ring in the mountains of New Jersey.
The movie's villain, played by Woody Harrelson, has the last name DeGroat, which is common among the Ramapough. Tribal members identify as descendants of the Lenape or Lunaape Nation, with some Dutch and other European ancestry in their heritage. Most of the 17 plaintiffs in the suit have the DeGroat last name.
Harrelson's character is the leader of a gang of "inbreds," according to the suit, who are depicted as lawless, drug-addicted, poor and violent, and live in the "mountains of New Jersey."
The film also uses the term "Jackson Whites," a historically derogatory term for the Ramapough, and refers to "the inbred mountain folk of Jersey," according to the suit.
The plaintiffs, who are mostly from New Jersey and New York, with one from Tennessee, seek punitive and compensatory damages and allege defamation, mental anguish and emotional distress. They say the use of the names along with the geographic location "make for a ready association between these plaintiffs and the movie."
Ramapough Chief Dwaine Perry, who is not party to the suit, held a news conference when the movie was released to denounce it as a "hate crime."
The Ramapough do not have federal recognition but identify themselves as an American ethnic group recognized as a tribe by New York and New Jersey.