Ahead of the release of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, the Ana Mendieta Estate has sued Amazon Studios in federal court in Seattle, alleging that the film (which is being distributed by Amazon in the United States) draws too heavily on works by the late artist. Amazon “encouraged, assisted, induced, caused, and/or materially contributed to a vast number of actual or imminent copyright infringements” by way of images that evoke Mendieta’s work, according to the suit. The estate is demanding that Amazon Studios pay damages for using Mendieta’s work without permission.
“In general, image permissions [for Mendieta’s work] are only granted for art historical contexts such as academic journal articles and informational articles directly related to the artist’s work and practice,” Galerie Lelong & Co., which represents the estate, said in a statement sent to ARTnews. “Permissions are not granted for commercial reproductions. Barbara Hoffman, the Estate’s legal counsel, stated that it is unfortunate that the director, Luca Guadagnino, purports to pay homage to women artists of the ’70s, yet Amazon has forced the Estate to bring a lawsuit to redress the damage suffered from the continuing usages of Mendieta’s iconic images in connection with Suspiria.”
A representative for Amazon Studios declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Suspiria is a remake of a 1977 Dario Argento horror-movie classic about supernatural occurrences at a ballet school in Germany. Guadagnino, who previously made last year’s Academy Award–winning Call Me By Your Name, has said in interviews that he made the film with feminist art in mind—and cited Mendieta’s work as being one of his influences. The movie is slated to be released in the U.S. on October 26.
The suit specifically references the film’s first trailer, which was released in June. One image in the clip shows a pair of hands bound by rope, which the estate says is based on Mendieta’s 1973 photograph Rape Scene. The estate also cites an image of a bloody print of a body on a white sheet—a reference, it says, to Mendieta’s 1978 photograph Untitled: Silueta Series, Mexico. (The suit also includes comparisons between shots in the trailers and works by Claude Cahun and Gina Pane.)
According to the suit, which was filed on Thursday, the estate sent Amazon a cease and desist letter. A second trailer for the film was released in August, and it did not include the allegedly Mendieta-inspired shots, which Amazon Studios said were removed from the final cut of the film.
Suspiria premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival, where it was met with a polarized response from critics. The suit states that, around the time of the film’s premiere, Suspiria was screened for an “agent” affiliated with Galerie Lelong & Co., who noted eight additional images that shared similarities with Mendieta’s work and were used without the estate’s permission. The suit says that the estate has “suffered and continues to suffer irreparable injury” because these images were included in the film.
Mendieta, who died in 1985, was one of the most important feminist artists working in America during the 1970s and ’80s. Her films, photographs, and performances focused on the denigration of women’s bodies, often at the hands of men. Her most famous series, the “Siluetas,” engaged with her Cuban heritage and involved the artist traveling to sites in Iowa and Mexico, enacting various rituals, and pondering the ways in which notions of femininity were connected with nature.