Independent filmmakers and brothers Selton and Langston Shaw and their production company filed a copyright infringement lawsuit on Wednesday against Hollywood directors and producers Spike Lee and Nate Parker as well as three affiliated companies.
In the complaint, filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the filmmakers allege that Parker and Lee stole the idea for the 2019 film “American Skin” from a 2017 screenplay the Shaw brothers wrote entitled “A Routine Stop.”
According to the lawsuit, “American Skin” and the Shaw brothers scripts both focused on police violence against Black men and women and the country’s systemic indifference to it. The suit alleges that Lee and Parker copied major themes, characters, story lines, the logline and other element from “A Routine Stop.”
A representative for Lee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.
An excerpt from the lawsuit:
“Beyond their identical themes, the similarities between American Skin and the screenplay for A Routine Stop are uncanny:
As detailed in the complaint, “In 2017, the Shaw brothers submitted their screenplay to the TV One Screenplay competition, which is a contest organized with and supported by the American Black Film Festival. While the brothers’ screenplay did not win the competition, it was circulated to a group of industry professionals who served as judges. “Lo and behold,” two years later, “American Skin” premiered at the Venice Film Festival “with plot lines, characters, and themes substantially similar” “to A Routine Stop,” according to the complaint.
“Among other things, in both A Routine Stop and American Skin, the main character, with a group of his friends, kidnaps and puts on a “show trial” of the white police officer involved in the shooting,” the complaint said.
“Parker wrote, directed and starred in “American Skin” which defendant companies Tiny Giant Entertainment and TM Films Inc. produced. Defendant company ASP Film LLC holds the copyright. Lee publicly endorsed and promoted the film, which was billed as a “Spike Lee Presentation” at its Venice premier where it received a standing ovation.
“We put our blood, sweat and tears into turning a tragic reality of society into a screenplay that would resonate with audiences, only to see someone else earn acclaim and profit from our work,” said the Shaw brothers. “We filed this lawsuit to get back what was wrongfully taken from us.
“Too many key elements in Mr. Parker’s film are uncannily similar to my clients’ screenplay. As the complaint shows, this is not a coincidence but an unlawful and deliberate attempt to usurp the Shaw brothers’ time, money and efforts to shine a spotlight on injustice,” said Joshua Schiller, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs and a partner with Boies, Schiller Flexner LLP. “This is a clear violation of copyright law, and we intend to enforce our clients’ rights vigorously.”