Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro and Fox Searchlight sued over Shape of Water

The family of a Pulitzer-winning playwright has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Guillermo del Toro and Fox Searchlight alleging that the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water is a ‘derivative’ work that has ‘glaring similarities’ to a 1969 play called Let Me Hear You Whisper by the late Paul Zindel.

Zindel’s family is suing the studio, the director and others in a California court claiming there are at least 61 similarities. The complaint – which seeks damages – notes that both works take place during the 1960s in a secret laboratory that conducts experiments for military purposes, both protagonists are unmarried, introverted cleaning women who work graveyard shifts at the labs, share their lunches with a creature, dance with a mop to engage it, try to rescue the creature when the lab makes plans to ‘vivisect’ it, use a laundry cart in their rescue plans, and aim to release the creature to the sea.

The suit also alleges that there are other parallel characteristics in that both works use a motif of a ‘romantic vintage song playing on a record player inside the laboratory’, adopt a similar ‘dreamy and ‘surreal’ mood and rely on ‘fantasy sequences’.

Demanding a jury trial, the claimants assert that because the play was widely published, and there are similarities between the film and the play, the film was made ‘knowing that it infringed Zindel’s original literary work’.

The 43-page document claims that Fox et al should have obtained a licence from the Zindel family and given fair credit to the original play.

‘Instead, the defendants did nothing, necessitating this action to vindicate Zindel’s copyrights, and to prevent the defendants from exploiting a celebrated author’s creativity without due recognition,’ the claimants say.

In response Del Toro has said ‘I’d never heard of this play before making The Shape Of Water, and none of my collaborators ever mentioned the play,’.

Fox Searchlight said it would ‘vigorously’ defend the ‘ground-breaking and original film’.

‘These claims from Mr Zindel’s estate are baseless, wholly without merit and we will be filing a motion to dismiss,’ a spokeswoman from Fox Searchlight said.