Director Accuses M. Night Shyamalan of Stealing Her Plot for 'Servant'

Illustration for article titled Director Accuses M. Night Shyamalan of Stealing Her Plot for 'Servant'
Screenshot: Apple+

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller—about a couple who replace their lost child with a lifelike doll—may not have been his own. A director named Francesca Gregorini is suing the filmmaker for lifting the idea from her 2013 film, The Truth About Emanuel.


According to the New York Post,

“The Truth About Emanuel,” a psychological thriller about a woman who forms a relationship with a doll after the death of her infant. In the copyright suit that she filed on Wednesday in California, she accuses Shyamalan of lifting elements from the film for his new Apple TV+ series “Servant.” The series, created by Tony Basgallop, debuted in November with Shyamalan as executive producer. It also tells the story of a couple who raise a doll as their son after the death of an infant.

Gregorini says the plot for The Truth About Emanuel was based on her personal experiences—not the doll part, but her difficulties conceiving a child, as well as coping with the absence of her own mother growing up. Her suit notes that Shyamalan’s interpretation was written and executive produced entirely by men, who largely ignored the emotional component of the complex family relations present in her version. Per the Atlantic:

“If ‘Servant’ showcases anything, it is the gender arrogance and inequity still infecting Hollywood (and apparently Cupertino),” the suit alleges. “The result of this caricature of the male gaze is the utter bastardization of Ms. Gregorini’s work. 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.”

Shyamalan, who has been accused on several occasions of stealing material, denies that he has seen The Truth About Emanuel, and that any similarity “is a coincidence.”


So I had typed up a reply based just on Lauren’s write-up, as it seemed like a very thin basis for a suit (note: I’m a lawyer but I work in finance, so the finer points of IP aren’t exactly my bag, though I did take copyright in law school.) However, reading the Atlantic article, there’s far more meat on the bones than I thought there would be. Her claim goes past “the trailer for this show sounds like a movie I made”, which I initially thought it was, and stories about placing emotions akin to a child into inanimate objects isn’t exactly new. But yeah, if her claims are true (I’ve seen neither work), there’s... a lot of coincidences. Also, her movie in question was shown at Sundance in 2013 and had Jessica Biel and Alfred Molina, so it wasn’t like, an NYU student film like I first thought. (Also, the claimant’s step-father is Ringo Starr?)

Anyway, all that said, this sort of claim is suuuuper hard to prove; courts usually give a lot of deference to parallel creation. But if it turns out one of the non-Shyamalan EPs ever saw the movie...