Guillermo del Toro’s awards darling “The Shape of Water” is being accused of stealing from the works of playwright Paul Zindel.
Zindel’s son, David, is suing the minds behind the film for taking from the playwright’s 1969 play Let Me Hear You Whisper without permission. The playwright’s son believes the two projects are so similar “The Shape of Water” should be seen as an adaptation of Zindel’s play.
The lawsuit, as reported by Variety, accuses Fox Searchlight, del Toro, and producer Daniel Kraus of violating the copyright now belonging to David Zindel and his siblings.
Let Me Hear You Whisper tells the story of an introverted female janitor who forms a bond with a dolphin while working in a military lab during the Cold War. After learning the dolphin is scheduled to be dissected, the janitor plans to sneak it out in a laundry basket and release it in a river.
“The Shape of Water” depicts a mute janitor forming a bond with an Amazonian river monster in a military lab and plans to help it escape.
“Despite the glaring similarities between the Play and the obviously derivative Picture, Defendants never bothered to seek or obtain a customary license from Plaintiff of motion picture and ancillary rights to the Play, nor did Defendants credit Zindel on the Picture,” the suit alleges.
Zindel further argues producer Kraus is familiar with his father’s book, having included Paul Zindel’s The Pigman in Kraus’ list of best books of all time.
Furthermore, Kraus and del Toro previously revealed the former suggested a story about a janitor who kidnaps an amphibian from a government research facility during a 2011 breakfast meeting.
The film’s director denies the allegations, telling Deadline, “I have never read nor seen the play. I’d never heard of this play before making ‘The Shape of Water’, and none of my collaborators ever mentioned the play.”
“I really cannot stomach the timing of this accusation,” he continued. “It’s pretty transparent what is happening here. To me, it’s actually a relief to take something from the arena of opinion into the arena of fact and law.”
“The way the play has been described, in the suit and along the way as these reports have appeared, it seems to be undoubtedly about a dolphin, and animal experimentation, about an animal being freed from a lab, and that is the end of it,” del Toro said. “’The Shape of Water’ is so many things, so many colours. It’s not about an animal, it’s about an elemental river god. These ideas are not interchangeable or equivalent; this would be tantamount to saying that E.T. would be the same story if you substituted the alien for a hamster.
“Our story and the layers are completely and entirely complex, interwoven with Russian spies, the Cold War, female friendships that are so complex and more important than that, which are completely original.”
“The trope of an animal being liberated could be found in anything from ‘Project X’ to ‘Splash’ to ‘Born Free’ and ‘Free Willy’ to ‘Starman’ to an episode of ‘Hey Arnold’ or ”The Simpsons’. You could go on and on,” continued del Toro. “You could also include ‘The Day of the Dolphin’, which in fact was written two years before the play. It’s not a groundbreaking plot element. And the beauty of this movie doesn’t boil down to a plot element from a play.”
Fox Searchlight denies the allegations in a statement to the publication. “These claims from Mr. Zindel’s estate are baseless, wholly without merit, and we will be filing a motion to dismiss.
“Furthermore, the estate’s complaint seems timed to coincide with the Academy Award voting cycle in order to pressure our studio to quickly settle,” they continued. “Instead, we will vigorously defend ourselves and, by extension, this groundbreaking and original film.”
“The Shape of Water” is nominated for a mindblowing 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director.