Variety has reported that on Thursday, the estate of the late Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta filed a lawsuit through the Hoffman Law Firm against Amazon Studios in federal court in Seattle. The estate, which is managed by Mendieta’s sister, Raquelin Mendieta, and niece, Raquel Cecilia Mendieta, alleges that certain imagery in the company’s upcoming film Suspiria constitutes copyright infringement, being directly derived from some of the artist’s works. The estate grants permission for the use of Mendieta’s art only in academic or news contexts, never for commercial reproduction or recreation in other media.
The estate had previously sent Amazon a cease-and-desist letter in June, after the release of the first teaser trailer for Suspiria. The lawsuit cites two moments in the trailer as imitating art by Mendieta. First there is the shot below, which the estate compared to Mendieta’s 1973 performance piece and photograph series Untitled (Rape Scene):
The second was this shot, which the estate alleges imitates Mendieta’s iconic Siluetas series:
Amazon subsequently removed these images from the trailer (third-party uploads of the video still have them), and, according to the suit, the corresponding shots have been removed from the film itself. After the movie’s premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, the studio screened it for the estate, which then identified a further eight images which it claims infringe on Mendieta’s works. Neither the images in question nor the works they allegedly infringe upon are described in the suit; it states only that they were all featured in the catalogue for the 2013 exhibition Ana Mendieta. She Got Love. The estate is seeking damages and to block the further use of these images in the film.
Suspiria is a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 film of the same name, the most famous example of the Italian giallo horror genre. The new film, directed by Luca Guadagnino, tackles the same basic premise of students at a prestigious dance academy falling prey to a supernatural threat with a drastically different aesthetic sensibility. In interviews, Guadagnino cites the work of different feminist artists during the 1970s as a primary influence on his version, with Mendieta directly name-checked in a conversation with Yahoo News.
With this in mind, that some of the film’s imagery is based on Mendieta’s works seems undeniable. You can see that the shot compared to Rape Scene even has the female character wearing a shirt with a near-identical striped color pattern. The lawsuit draws out the line between homage and plagiarism, and raises questions of when one becomes the other.
Ana Mendieta worked with performance, sculpture, land art, photography, and film over the course of her life. She tackled issues around the feminine body and its autonomy, her Cuban heritage and relationship to the Earth, and matters of violence and death. Her career was abruptly cut short by her death of a fall at age 36 in 1985. Her husband, the sculptor Carl Andre, was tried and acquitted of her murder. In the decades since, appreciates of Mendieta’s work have fought to draw more attention to her (the New York Times did not publish an obituary for her until last week), and the Mendieta estate has zealously protected her legacy.
Suspiria is set to be released in theaters October 26.