Oscar frontrunner The Shape of Water is now facing a copyright infringement lawsuit due to the startling similarities between it and the play, Let Me Hear You Whisper. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the fantastical love story is one of 2017's most acclaimed films, picking up numerous accolades on the awards circuit. In one of the most open Academy Award races in recent memory, The Shape of Water emerged as the closest thing to a favorite for the major Oscars, scoring wins at the Producers Guild and Directors Guild. Unfortunately, there is one dark cloud hanging over the celebration that's only becoming more of an issue.
As The Shape of Water's profile grew when it expanded to more theaters nationwide, people pointed out how much the story had in common with Let Me Hear You Whisper, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Zindel. For those not in the know, Whisper's main narrative centers around a scrub-woman who attempts to rescue a dolphin (who will talk to nobody but her) from a research facility. That's incredibly comparable to the romance that blossomed between Elisa and "The Asset," and there are those who feel it isn't simply coincidence.
Screen Rant received an email from Zindel's son, David (who filed the lawsuit), detailing the complaints made against The Shape of Water. Producer Daniel Kraus is mentioned frequently in the document, due to his admiration of Zindel's work and the fact Kraus is on record saying he came up with the idea for the movie the same year the adaptation of Let Me Hear You Whisper aired on national television. Kraus is also rather cavalier about "borrowing" from other sources for his projects, admitting in a Reddit Q&A, "I stole (grave robbed?) from everything I could" when writing a book. Additionally, Kraus was the one who brought the concept to del Toro's attention during a breakfast meeting, providing the filmmaker with a way to tackle his dream of making a movie a la Creature from the Black Lagoon.
As for del Toro, his fandom of artist Stephen Gammell is cited, as the director has talked about plans to adapt Gammell's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark one day. Gammell is a key component of the lawsuit because he was the illustrator for the 1974 version of Let Me Hear You Whisper, and one of del Toro's hobbies is collecting original Gammell drawings to display in exhibits. Zindel stipulates it's hard to believe del Toro would be unaware of the play given this connection. However, it's worth pointing out Fox Searchlight said in a statement del Toro has "never read nor seen" the play, remarking that del Toro is typically "very open" about discussing his influences. Obviously, the studio isn't going to confess to plagiarism, but it might be difficult for the Zindel family to prove del Toro knowingly copied Let Me Hear You Whisper given Fox's stance.
Copyright infringement cases are nothing new in Hollywood. A popular example in recent years is James Cameron's Avatar, which was hit by no fewer than eight lawsuits since its premiere in 2009. Many of those were dismissed by the courts, so it'll be interesting to see what happens in this case. Some of the similarities between The Shape of Water and Let Me Hear You Whisper are uncanny, but that doesn't necessarily mean Zindel will win. As for del Toro's Oscar prospects, his victory at the DGA came after this situation gained notoriety, so for now he still seems like a safe bet.
Source: David Zindel
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