The Shape of Water hit with plagiarism accusations by late playwright’s estate

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Jan 26, 2018, 3:05 PM EST

Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water is being accused of plagiarism by the estate of the late playwright Paul Zindel for allegedly lifting from the story of his 1969 play, Let Me Hear You Whisper, without permission.

In an email to The Guardian, the playwright’s son, David Zindel, said: "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.”

Let Me Hear You Whisper tells the story of a lonely night cleaner attempting to rescue a dolphin who will talk to no one but her from a research laboratory. Fox Searchlight's The Shape of Water also follows a lonely, night-shift janitor (played by Sally Hawkins) who forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature being held in captivity, also in a research laboratory.

A Fox Searchlight spokesperson denied the allegations in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday: “Guillermo 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. If the Zindel family has questions about this original work we welcome a conversation with them.”

Other similarities that have been pointed out are that both main characters work in military-style labs, both can communicate with their respective sea creatures, and both hatch a rescue plan to return the creature to the sea. They also both have a female sidekick, like the character played by Octavia Spencer in the movie.

However, there are some big differences, too. The Shape of Water's creature is a seemingly god-like amphibious being, and Let Me Hear You Whisper's is a dolphin. And Helen, the main character in the play, doesn't have a passionate relationship with her sea creature, or a friendship with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins).

Zindel, who died in 2003, won the drama Pulitzer for his play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds in 1971. Let Me Hear You Whisper was made into a television show the same year it was written as a play.