LOS ANGELES — Attorneys for Blac Chyna and the Kardashians cast the other as the villain in court on Tuesday as they told two versions of the story of how the model and former exotic dancer's onetime reality TV deal came to a crashing halt.
During opening statements in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Chyna’s attorney Lynne Ciani painted a picture of a young woman who worked for years to build a professional and personal life for herself only to have her career destroyed by the famous family after they allegedly schemed to cancel her and her ex-fiancé Rob Kardashian's E! reality show, Rob & Chyna. Meanwhile, the Kardashians' attorney Michael Rhodes described Chyna, whose real name is Angela White, as an opportunist who so desperately wanted "to be a part of this family," but — by no fault of his clients — that never happened.
"Ms. White wanted something and I want you to search as you listen to the evidence" for what that was, Rhodes said. "She wanted to be one of them."
Chyna sued the entire Kardashian/Jenner clan in October 2017, accusing them of defaming her and wrongfully interfering with the filming of a second season of her and Rob’s E! reality show, Rob & Chyna. On Tuesday, 16 jurors, including four alternates who will be chosen after all the evidence is presented, were seated to hear the case.
As she introduced Chyna to jurors, Ciani sought to distinguish her client from the Kardashian clan, saying that while they both operate within the reality TV world, they come from very different backgrounds.
Chyna, now 33, grew up in Washington, DC, with a single mother and worked at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and Taco Bell to support herself and help her family through high school.
“It was not easy,” Ciani said of Chyna’s childhood. “She made the most of what she had.”
She eventually became an exotic dancer to help pay for her college tuition at Johnson & Wales University in Miami where she initially pursued an education in fashion merchandising, later switching to business management. In 2010, she started her modeling career and received some “notoriety” after Drake mentioned her in a song, Ciani said.
The following year she appeared in a Kanye West music video as Nicki Minaj’s stunt double and met rapper Tyga, with whom she started a professional and personal relationship. After that relationship ended in 2014, Chyna took time to focus on her career and raising her and Tyga's son, King, her attorney said. But at the start of 2016, she decided to reach out to Rob Kardashian, who, her attorney said, had been courting her.
“It was one of those relationships where once they clicked they became inseparable,” Ciani said.
Rob & Chyna's first season, which included seven episodes, followed the whirlwind romance between Rob and Chyna, who began dating in January 2016. The couple became engaged and welcomed a child together in a matter of months. But shortly after their daughter Dream’s birth, the couple split, and their show unraveled.
Then in July 2017, Chyna got a restraining order against Rob after he nonconsensually posted sexual images of her online. At the time, she also accused him of physical abuse but dropped those claims a few months later after the former couple reached a private agreement that included shared custody of Dream.
But the legal drama continued. Just weeks after Chyna dropped her domestic violence case, Rob and his sister Kylie Jenner sued her, alleging that she attacked him and tried to use their family for financial gain. (Rob recently withdrew that case for their daughter's "sake.")
In her case against the family, which now only involves Rob, Kris, Kim, Khloé, and Kylie, Chyna says she believed Rob & Chyna was going to be picked up for a second season despite the couple splitting up, but that it was canceled due to pressure from the Kardashians. She is seeking millions in damages, saying that the cancelation caused her to lose income from reality TV appearances, club appearances, and social media posts.
As part of this lawsuit, Chyna is also pursuing claims of assault, battery, illegal distribution of private materials, and harassment against Rob. A jury will hear those allegations at a separate trial.
On Tuesday, Ciani told jurors that Rob's mom, Kris Jenner, set out to stop the show and recruited three of her daughters to help after allegedly falsely accusing Chyna of beating "the shit out of Rob's face" in December 2016.
She acknowledged that the relationship had its ups and downs, which she said Chyna had wanted to depict in their show to "bring the real back into reality," and that her client damaged a gingerbread house, a TV, and part of a door at Kylie's house, where the former couple was living at the time. But, Ciani said, the evidence will show that "there was no violent attack."
In his opening statement, Rhodes said his colleague had failed to tell the whole story as he explained that it was not up to the Kardashians, rather it was up to the network, E!, whether Rob & Chyna was renewed for a second season.
"Look at her contracts," he instructed jurors, saying they are all signed by Chyna, not the Kardashians.
Rhodes noted that while, yes, evidence shows messages from his clients advocating that the show not be renewed, they did so because they were "very upset" and concerned after Chyna allegedly attacked Rob in December 2016.
He also pointed out that canceling the show was not in their financial interests. Rob & Chyna was, in his words, a spinoff from the Kardashians' long-running Keeping Up With the Kardashians that aired on the same network. Both Kim and Kris were executive producers on Rob & Chyna and the family members were also paid as talent for appearing in that show in addition to their own.
"The question in this trial is whatever happened did my clients act in a way that they were allowed to," Rhodes said.
"Whether my clients maybe in the heat of the moment ... said some things that were not very nice" but did they have a right to be concerned and speak up, he continued.
The reality TV moguls instead blame Chyna for the show's demise, saying it became impossible to shoot the show after she obtained the restraining order against Rob in July 2017. At that time, Chyna and E! had agreed to take until Aug. 1 to decide whether to move forward with a second season, Rhodes said, citing agreements between the two.
Despite the cancelation of the show, Chyna has continued to make a career for herself, Rhodes said, adding that his clients were "happy for her" and "did nothing over the last five years to prevent her from making [an] income."
The trial will continue on Wednesday morning with testimony from Chyna.