Filmmaker Francesca Gregorini has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against defendants including M. Night Shyamalan and Apple, claiming the Apple TV+ show Servant is a “brazen copy” of one of her own feature films.
Filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the suit accuses Shyamalan, series creator Tony Basgallop, and others of bastardizing Gregorini’s 2013 drama The Truth About Emanuel. Starring Jessica Biel and Kaya Scodelario, the film is a psychological thriller that focuses on a woman who uses a realistic doll to cope with the loss of her infant, going so far as to hire a nanny to take care of it.
Servant, which filmed in the Philadelphia area starting in late 2018, was released in November, and presents a similar story in which a wealthy couple cares for a lifelike doll following the death of their infant son. According to the suit, Shyamalan and Basgallop have claimed that “any similarity is a coincidence,” and “arrogantly dismissed Ms. Gregorini’s protests” by saying that Servant was in development prior to the creation of The Truth About Emanuel. The suit also says both men claimed to have never seen Gregorini’s film.
Emanuel debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013, and was released in theaters in 2014. Gregorini has since gone on to direct episodes of several popular television shows, such as Netflix’s Chambers, Amazon’s Electric Dreams, and AMC’s Killing Eve.
Gregorini alleges many other similarities between the two productions aside from their plots, including elements such as “characters, scenes, directorial choices, and modes of storytelling,” including a number of specific shots in each — especially among the first three episodes of Servant. A primary difference, the suit indicates, is that Servant is told from a male perspective, which is emblematic of the “gender arrogance and inequity still infecting Hollywood.”
“It’s an apt metaphor for the real-life version of what could happen here: It takes only a few old guard Hollywood men, such as Mr. Shyamalan and Mr. Basgallop, and their new Silicon Valley partner Apple TV+, to negate the considerable achievements and life experiences of the women behind Emanuel, and to irredeemably tarnish their work,” the suit states. “Just as the male perspective cheapens the female experience in Servant, Mr. Shyamalan and Apple TV+ diminish Ms. Gregorini and her largely female team.”
Shyamalan has been accused of infringement in the past, notably by Pennsylvania screenwriter Robert McIlhinney, who sued the filmmaker in 2003, claiming that Signs was substantially similar to his unproduced script titled Lord of the Barrens: The Jersey Devil. The following year, author Margaret Peterson Haddox claimed Shyamalan’s The Village was similar in plot to her own 1995 novel Running Out of Time, the New York Times reports. In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, Disney and Shyamalan’s production company, Blinding Edge, called the claims “meritless.”
Servant, meanwhile, is preparing to return to Philadelphia for production on season two of the series later this month. Production company Uncle George Productions has received some pushback from members of the Center City neighborhood where it is scheduled to film, with one resident claiming in an Inquirer op-ed that filmmakers “treated Philly residents with disrespect and disregard” during filming for season one.
Gregorini is seeking an unspecified amount of damages in her suit.