M. Night Shyamalan's Apple TV+ debut, Servant, is an eerie thriller about a couple who, after experiencing the loss of their infant son, welcome him back into their lives by way of a life-like reborn doll. They hire a live-in nanny for the doll version of Baby Jericho, and from there, their lives spiral out of control, following the twists and turns one might expect from an M. Night Shyamalan production. Servant has been so well-received that it was renewed for a second season before it even aired.
There's one glaring problem: According to a story by the Atlantic yesterday, almost everything about Servant is ripped from a 2013 film called The Truth About Emanuel, claims director Francesca Gregorini. As obtained by Deadline, Gregorini filed a copyright infringement lawsuit this week against Apple, Shyamalan, Servant co-creator Tony Basgallop, Shyamalan's production company Blinding Edge Pictures, and others seeking damages as well as an end to the show.
Debuted at Sundance Film Festival seven years ago, Gregorini's film stars Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, and Kaya Scodelario, and according to Gregorini, Servant doesn't just follow the same plot but it also lifts story-telling strategies including shock reveals, settings, undertones, themes, camera angles, and music. While much of Servant allegedly follows The Truth About Emanuel, Gregorini's lawsuit claims that it differs in an egregious way that's "emblematic of the gender injustice in the entertainment industry."
Inspired by Gregorini's personal struggles with motherhood, The Truth About Emanuel is "clearly a woman's story," the lawsuit alleges, but having been made by an all-male team, Servant adds a layer that Gregorini classified as "equally damaging and disturbing." Instead of her "female-centric" approach, the story of Servant is "sometimes seen through the eyes of two men—who watch and comment on the women’s 'insanity' while pounding tequila shots and pondering whether the nanny is 'fuckable.'"
That "caricature of the male gaze" results in "the utter bastardization" of Gregorini's work, the lawsuit added, pointing to a November review in the Atlantic that suggested Servant's male-dominated team had something to do with its absence of a sympathetic female perspective on losing a child.
Why this matters in the big picture is because Servant proves that "it takes only a few old guard Hollywood men [...] to negate the considerable achievements and life experiences of the women behind Emanuel, and to irredeemably tarnish their work," the lawsuit goes on to say. While the lawsuit is focused on copyright infringement—and not officially on gender injustice—it claims that Servant is yet another example of "Hollywood's patriarchal system," which prevents marginalized people in Hollywood from having opportunities to make progress.
Author Margaret Peterson Haddix and publisher Simon & Schuster claimed The Village had too much in common with Haddix's Running Out of Time back in 2004, so it's not the first time Shyamalan has been accused of uncanny similarities. But in a time when Hollywood is being forced to confront its power dynamics, Gregorini's lawsuit is awfully topical.