Apple TV+ series Servant accused of ripping off Sundance movie

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Apple TV+ series Servant accused of ripping off Sundance movie
Apple TV+ has its first lawsuit.
Photo: Apple

M. Night Shyamalan and Tony Basgallop’s Servant may be arguably the best of the Apple Originals. But it may not be so, well, original, according to a new lawsuit filed against Apple.

The suit claims that the spooky Apple TV+ drama borrows a fair amount from Francesca Gregorini’s 2013 film The Truth About Emanuel.

The Truth About Emanuel stars Jessica Biel, Kaya Scodelario, Alfred Molina, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard and Frances O’Connor. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013.

Like Servant, in The Truth About Emanuel a traumatized parent hires a babysitter to look after a baby, who (spoiler) turns out to be a doll. The babysitter also turns out to be more than she seems on the surface.

Servant is a ‘wholesale copy’

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, calls Servant a “wholesale copy” ripoff of the 2013 movie. “Mr. Shyamalan has gone so far as to appropriate not just the plot of Emanuel — but also its use of cinematic language, creating a substantially similar feeling, mood, and theme,” the suit reads.

There’s more detail, too, such as the fact that “both works use magical realism to create an otherworldly mood”.

In addition, the suit notes the while Emanuel was made by women, Servant was made by men. This is an “added layer of sexism” on top of the other complaints. In The Atlantic, The Truth About Emanuel‘s director Francesca Gregorini said that:

“[For Servant] to take something that is so personal to me, and obviously so female-centric—to take it, co-opt it, profiteer off of it, and then on top of that … [insert] conversations about the nanny being ‘****able’ and the mother being crazy … it’s angering, honestly.”

In a statement to Deadline, Gregorini’s lead lawyer David Erikson said that:

Servant’s similarities to Emanuel are so pervasive, and so grounded in my client’s highly creative and uniquely personal artistic choices, that the idea they might have resulted from coincidence is preposterous. Watching the two works leaves no doubt that my client’s copyrighted expression was cavalierly misappropriated—easily meeting the standard for copyright infringement.”

Inspiration or plagiarism?

It will be interesting to see what happens next in the suit. I’m loving Servant. But while it’s keeping me guessing, there’s no doubt that it’s derivative. As I wrote in my original review, the nanny with ulterior motives owes a debt to The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. Parents recovering from the loss of a young child who wind up in trouble is a trope seen in everything from Don’t Look Now to Dead Calm to The Descent. A nanny looking after a fake child dolls was also the premise of The Boy. And spooky babies are in movies ranging from Eraserhead to Rosemary’s Baby.

The question is whether the debt to The Truth About Emanuel goes beyond just playing with genre cliches and tips over into, well, copying. We will see. There’s also the chance that this lawsuit may result in Apple having to reveal some more details of Apple TV+. Right now, for instance, it has not revealed anything about viewer figures — other than that “millions” are watching.