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Spike Lee And Nate Parker Hit With Eye-Popping Lawsuit Over American Skin

"American Skin," which debuted at Venice Film Festival in 2019 and saw a wider release in early 2021, tells the story of a Black man who takes over a police station by force to avenge the murder of his son by an officer during a traffic stop. Nate Parker both directs and stars in the film. Spike Lee was attached to the project as a producer, and it was called a "Spike Lee presentation" when it premiered in Venice.

Certainly, "American Skin" feels a part of Lee's larger repertoire, which includes many films concerned with racism in the United States, and the role of police in perpetuating racism. His 2018 film "BlacKkKlansman" stars John David Washington and Adam Driver, telling the true story of the first Black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as he infiltrates a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

However well it may mesh with the two directors' oeuvres, "American Skin" may not be a Nate Parker or Spike Lee original. In a new lawsuit, a pair of smaller-scale filmmakers are alleging theft of intellectual property, claiming the film is uncannily similar to a screenplay they wrote and submitted to various Hollywood executives a few years prior.

Two independent filmmakers allege American Skin is lifted from their screenplay

In 2017, two independent filmmakers, Selton and Langston Shaw, submitted a screenplay to the American Black Film Festival's TV One Screenplay competition. The script was titled "A Routine Stop" and told the story of... a Black man who takes over a police station by force to avenge the murder of his son by an officer at a traffic stop. The Shaw brothers believe those similarities are not coincidental and have filed suit against Nate Parker and Spike Lee.

According to The Wrap, the Shaw brothers have filed a lawsuit with the United States Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that the idea for "American Skin" was lifted from their screenplay. An excerpt from the brief reads, "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 brief also points out what the Shaws consider to be a suspicious timeline from their submission of the screenplay to the TV One Screenplay competition to the release of "American Skin," pointing out that their original script was read by a number of "industry professionals" involved in the contest. Whether the "Do the Right Thing" director was one of those who read it is not clear.

A statement from the Shaws said, "We filed this lawsuit to get back what was wrongfully taken from us."