'Servant': Why was M Night Shyamalan sued? Apple series accused of ripping off 2013 film and 'bastardizing' it

Filmmaker Francesca Gregorini sued Shyamalan and Apple, accusing them of 'bastardizing' her 2013 film, 'The Truth About Emanuel' and envisioning it for the male gaze


                            'Servant': Why was M Night Shyamalan sued? Apple series accused of ripping off 2013 film and 'bastardizing' it
M Night Shyamalan (Getty Images)

One of the first shows to come out on Apple TV+ when the service launched in late 2019 was 'Servant'. Although executive producer M Night Shyamalan has been referred to more in news about the series, the horror/thriller series was created and written by Tony Basgallop. 'Servant' stars Toby Kebbell, Lauren Ambrose, Nell Tiger Free and Rupert Grint and follows the story of Sean and Dorothy Turner (Kebbell and Ambrose) who raise a doll after losing their own baby. Free stars as Leanne Grayson, a mysterious "nanny", and Grint stars as Dorothy's brother Julian Pearce.

The first season ended in early 2020 and the second season is set to release on Apple's streaming platform shortly. However, for a while in between, the future of 'Servant' may have been uncertain after filmmaker Francesca Gregorini sued Shyamalan and Apple, accusing them of "bastardizing" her 2013 film, 'The Truth About Emanuel' and envisioning it for the male gaze. 'The Truth About Emanuel' is a psychological thriller about a woman who forms a relationship with a doll after the death of her infant. Gregorini accused Shyamalan of lifting elements from her film for the series. She stated that her story emerged from her difficulty to conceive a child and growing up with an absent mother and that the Apple TV+ series took the same themes and filtered them through a male lens with men who talk about a woman's "insanity" and debate whether the nanny is "f***able". 

“If ‘Servant’ showcases anything, it is the gender arrogance and inequity still infecting Hollywood (and apparently Cupertino),” the suit alleged. “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.” The suit also stated, "Once again, it appears that the powerful men of Hollywood and Big Tech believe that appropriation of others’ intellectual property is their right."

The lawsuit was dismissed in May 2020 by Judge John F Walter, who ruled that the series is not similar enough to Gregorini's film to merit a lawsuit. “In sum, the alleged similarities between the works pale in comparison to the differences in the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, characters, and sequence of events, and the Court concludes that the works at issue are not substantially similar as a matter of law,” Walter wrote.

Walter also noted that sharing a premise was not a violation of the copyright law, stating, "Beyond this unprotectable shared premise, the works’ storylines diverge drastically and quickly." Walter dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning that Gregorini cannot amend and refile it. However, Gregorini later stated her intention to appeal the decision, saying, "Today’s ruling is disappointing, but not surprising. The balance of power in the entertainment industry has always favored powerful men and institutions. Their ultimate goal is to silence anyone whose work they steal and repurpose without credit."

'Servant' Season 2 premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, January 15, 2021.

If you have a news scoop or an interesting story for us, please reach out at (323) 421-7514