Now Reading: ‘The Shape of Water’ Wins Best Picture Despite Plagiarism Lawsuit


‘The Shape of Water’ Wins Best Picture Despite Plagiarism Lawsuit

March 6, 20184 min read

The Shape of Water is no doubt one of the biggest movies of 2017. At the 90th annual Oscars, it was up for 13 nominations and ended up going home with Best Production Design, Best Original Music Score, Best Director and Best Picture.

At first, I was excited to see all the nominations the movie was up for. I enjoyed it a lot, when I saw it at the movies, and Guillermo del Toro is most certainly a critically acclaimed movie maker. Unfortunately, I was not excited to see that behind the many nominations and support from the academy, there is an ongoing plagiarism lawsuit.

Over the past few months, The Shape of Water has faced two plagiarism accusations. Currently, one has been resolved, but the second is firey and ongoing.

The Shape Of Water is set in the 1960s in Baltimore MD. Elisa, a mute woman, falls in love with a contained sea creature while working as a janitor in a top secret government facility.

Turns out, there is a 2015 short film entitled The Space Between Us where a cleaner named Juliette falls in love with a captive merman.

Screen cap from the short film “The Space Between Us”

You can’t deny the similarities. Even the fish creatures look pretty similar. But, the Netherlands Film Academy, which helped produced the short, stated that The Shape of Water is not a copycat. You can read their statement here.

When that controversy ended last month, it wasn’t long before another accusation was made. This one was about a 1969 play by Paul Zindel called Let Me Hear You Whisper. The story is about a woman named Helen, who learns that scientists are conducting brutal experiments against an intelligent dolphin, and she attempts to rescue it from the lab it is kept in.

The similarities are also very prominent here. Once again, the protagonists are cleaning ladies who become fascinated by the captive creature in their respected laboratories. They both develop a special bond with their creatures, through food and music, and during the rescue missions, they both use laundry hampers as a means to hide their respected creatures.

The differences between the two are that at the end of Let Me Hear You Whisper, Helen, unfortunately, fails the rescue mission, and the dolphin dies. For those who’ve seen The Shape of Water, you know the ending is quite the opposite. Another very big difference is that the Elisa in The Shape of Water is mute, which adds an extra layer to her character and to the romance story as a whole.

Nonetheless, the case was still filled on Feb. 21 by playwright Zindel’s son, David Zindel. He argued that The Shape of Water should be considered an adaptation of his father’s play. He expressed his grief that a major studio could steal his father’s work without anyone recognizing or asking for the rights.

Both del Toro and Fox Studios came out with responses ultimately denying the accusations, saying that The Shape of Water is a completely original film.

Despite the movie’s many wins at the Oscars, the lawsuit doesn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon. Whether or not del Toro drew inspiration from the respected projects knowingly or unknowingly will hopefully be officially uncovered soon.

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Nilofer Rolston

Nilofer Rolston is a Pakistani Canadian and an aspiring novelist.

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