Guillermo del Toro‘s film The Shape of Water is being slapped with a copyright infringement lawsuit. The news comes at an inopportune time for the movie, as the 90th Academy Awards ceremony airs on March 4, 2018. The Shape of Water received 13 Oscar nominations, more than any other film this year. In an article on Deadline, the production company behind the film, criticized the timing of the accusations.
“These claims from Mr. Zindel’s estate are baseless, wholly without merit and we will be filing a motion to dismiss,” Fox Searchlight said in a statement. “Furthermore, the estate’s complaint seems timed to coincide with the Academy Award voting cycle in order to pressure our studio to quickly settle. Instead, we will vigorously defend ourselves and, by extension, this groundbreaking and original film.”
For his part, del Toro vehemently denies any wrongdoing. “I have never read nor seen the play,” he said. “I’d never heard of this play before making The Shape of Water, and none of my collaborators ever mentioned the play.”
Per CNN, the lawsuit is being spearheaded by David Zindel, son of the late playwright Paul Zindel. The 1969 play in question is called Let Me Hear You Whisper, and the suit describes it as “the story of a lonely janitorial cleaning woman who works the graveyard shift at a scientific laboratory facility that performs animal experiments for military use.” The suit states that the woman “becomes fascinated by a fantastic intelligent aquatic creature, held captive in a glass tank. To the sounds of romantic vintage music playing on a record player, she forms a deep, loving bond with the creature, discovering that it can communicate — but chooses to do so only with her.”
Zindel is aiming for a jury trial to be brought against Fox Searchlight, director Guillermo Del Toro, and associate producer Daniel Kraus. He claims there are greater than 60 similarities between his father’s play and del Toro’s film. “This troubling matter was raised with Fox five weeks ago but was met with inertia,” Zindel said. “The glaring similarities between the film and our father’s play are too extensive for us to ignore and so we had to act.”
Time will tell if anything comes of the lawsuit, but the damage may already be done when it comes to the minds of Academy voters. In del Toro’s defense, Let Me Hear You Whisper seems to be primarily about a dolphin being freed from a lab where it’s being experimented on. While The Shape of Water seems to share similarities with the play, the whole ‘Russian Cold War sex with an elemental river god’ storyline seems to be wholly unique to the film.