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'The Shape of Water' accused of plagiarism by late playwright's estate

by Daniel Arkin /
Image: The Shape of Water
Sally Hawkins in "The Shape of Water."Kerry Hayes / Twentieth Century Fox

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The estate of a late playwright claims the premise of the Oscar-nominated movie “The Shape of Water” was lifted from a 1969 play without permission.

David Zindel, the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Paul Zindel, claims the movie, co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, cribs from his father’s work “Let Me Hear You Whisper.”

“We are shocked that a major studio could make a film so obviously derived from my late father’s work without anyone recognizing it and coming to us for the rights,” Zindel said in a statement.

The allegations were first reported by The Guardian.

In a statement, the movie’s distributor claimed del Toro “has never read nor seen Mr. Zindel’s play in any form.”

“Mr. del Toro has had a 25-year career during which he has made 10 feature films and has always been very open about acknowledging his influences,” Fox Searchlight said. “If the Zindel family has questions about this original work, we welcome a conversation with them.”

“The Shape of Water” stars Sally Hawkins as a janitor at a government-run laboratory who falls in love with a sea creature and plots to rescue it from captivity. Hawkins’ character is mute and communicates with the creature via sign language.

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“Let Me Hear You Whisper” centers on a female custodian for a laboratory that experiments on “various animals.” She is “particularly drawn to a dolphin” and later “makes a desperate attempt to rescue the dolphin from the scientists,” according to a plot synopsis on Paul Zindel’s website.

The protagonist of “Let Me Hear You Whisper” does not appear to be mute and or communicate with the dolphin via sign language.

“A lot of people are telling us they are struck by the substantial similarities and we are looking into it,” David Zindel said. “We are very grateful to Paul Zindel’s fans for bringing this to our attention.”

The dramatist, who won a Pulitzer for his play “The Effect of Gamma Rays On Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds,” died in 2003.

“The Shape of Water” received 13 Oscar nominations this week, including one for an original screenplay credited to del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. The movie was purportedly based on an original idea by del Toro and author Daniel Kraus, according to Kraus’ website.

The movie was “developed from the ground up” by the two men, Kraus says on his website.

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