To Gregorini, the insensitivity with which the show treats its female characters adds insult to injury. “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 ‘fuckable’ and the mother being crazy … it’s angering, honestly,” she said. Given the added difficulty that female writers and directors face in getting hired for mainstream projects, she’s especially disappointed by what she sees as an all-male executive-production team taking a project firmly rooted in a female experience and twisting it into a more generic thriller. (I noted the lack of female perspective in my November review of the series, which is briefly quoted in the suit.) As per Basgallop’s and Shyamalan’s denial that either has seen Emanuel, Gregorini’s lawsuit also states that in 2017, her agent submitted her as a candidate to direct episodes of the show Berlin Station, for which Basgallop served as executive producer. It is, Gregorini alleges, “highly likely” that he looked at her work at the time.
Ever since Apple TV+ was introduced at a starry event at the tech company’s Cupertino, California, headquarters in September last year, the new streaming platform has emphasized its intention to showcase groundbreaking, original stories from the world’s most talented creators. “Our mission is to bring you the most compelling stories from the best minds in TV and film,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the event. Following its November launch, Apple TV+ has debuted 11 series, including The Morning Show, a #MeToo-themed drama starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon; See, a futuristic sci-fi show with Jason Momoa; and For All Mankind, an alternative-history series with Joel Kinnaman about a world in which the United States lost the space race.
Shyamalan, the creator of a string of hit movies including The Sixth Sense, The Village, Unbreakable, and Split, was one of the highest-profile writers and directors to produce a series for Apple’s new service, a relationship that seemed to affirm clout on both sides. But Shyamalan has also been accused of plagiarism in the past: A Pennsylvania screenwriter, Robert McIlhinney, sued Shyamalan in 2003, alleging that the movie Signs had taken ideas from an unproduced screenplay McIlhinney had written called Lord of the Barrens: The Jersey Devil. The young-adult author Margaret Peterson Haddix observed in 2004 that The Village was remarkably similar to her award-winning 1995 novel, Running Out of Time, down to the particular mission of a teenage character and a notable twist. (Shyamalan’s production company and Disney released a statement at the time saying that Haddix’s claims were “meritless.”)
Gregorini hopes that in filing her lawsuit, she will not only encourage storytellers to be less brazen about using other people’s work, but also persuade studios to do due diligence on the people they hire and the projects they green-light. Servant has already been renewed for a second season, and the first is available in more than 100 countries worldwide. “Besides everything else, I’m hoping to shed light that this [kind of situation] is where we still are,” Gregorini said. Emanuel, she added, was a “film that took me five years from inception to completion to make … So I’m doing this obviously for myself, but I’m also very hopeful that this will open up a conversation [about] this kind of practice … in Hollywood.”