The story goes that in 1986 African-American female writer Sophia Stewart submitted a manuscript titled, THE THIRD EYE, to a science fiction comic book contest that was sponsored by the Wachowski Brothers from an ad that was placed in a national magazine. She never heard from them and her manuscript was never returned. Years later, in 1999, when the first MATRIX film was released Stewart recognized that her work had been appropriated by the Wachowski Brothers and she filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement in 2003 against them, Warner Bros., Joel Silver, Village Roadshow Entertainment, James Cameron, Gale Ann Hurd and THE TERMINATOR franchise. Now every three or four years after she had filed the lawsuit contradictory stories are circulated on the internet about her either having won the lawsuit (in 2004) or that the lawsuit had been dismissed (in 2005). And just as recently as December 10th 2011, other websites including www.brandnewz.com have announced that Miss. Stewart has won a multi-billion dollar settlement for copyright infringement against the MATRIX franchise and THE TERMINATOR franchise. She allegedly won her lawsuit based on the fact that,”according to court documentation, an FBI investigation discovered that more than thirty minutes had been edited from the original [Matrix] film, in an attempt to avoid penalties for copyright infringement.” (1)
This should be breaking news around the world, but mainstream media outlets will not report on this story and Miss. Stewart gives a fascinating account as to why. She says that,”The reason you have not seen any of this in the media is because Warner Bros. parent company is AOL-Time Warner… this giant owns 95 percent of the media… let me give you a clue as to what they own in the media business… New York Times papers/magazines, LA Times papers/magazines, People magazine, CNN News, Extra, Celebrity Justice, Entertainment Tonight, HBO, New Line Cinema, Dreamworks, Newsweek, Village Roadshow, and many, many more! They are not going to report on themselves. They have been suppressing my case for years.” (2)
Now one of the main strengths of any conspiracy theory is the persuasive power of those that believe in it to discredit the institutions we have to prove or disprove the validity of a theory. Whether it is the discrediting of the Warren Commission (JFK), the CDC (HIV as a racist plot) or the 9/11 Commission, the strength of any conspiracy theory rests upon our inherent distrust of an institution which can then allow the believers to discredit that institution and present their theory as the truth. In Stewart’s case that institution that must be discredited is the media (in the form of the gigantic AOL-Time Warner conglomerate), which is ironically the very institution from whom she is seeking monetary damages. Stewart’s claim that AOL-Time Warner owns 95% percent of the media is patently untrue. We’ve got to leave some room for Viacom, Clear Channel, and the others. Moreover The LA Times, one of the newspapers she claims as part of the suppression of her case, did actually run a story on her and her lawsuit on July 31 2005 called, ”The Billion Dollar Myth,” by Kemp Powers. (3)
But a major source of trouble in believing Stewart’s claim of copyright infringement is found in her very own testimony.
For one thing, each time her story is told, whether in her own words or paraphrased by others the copyright dates for her original manuscript, THE THIRD EYE change from either 1981 or 1983. These copyright discrepancies are significant because she expanded her lawsuit to include THE TERMINATOR franchise where the first film was released in 1984. But nowhere in her tale of infringement does she reveal how Cameron or Hurd got a hold of her original manuscript. Moreover, Cameron and Hurd were already sued by prolific science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison who claimed that THE TERMINATOR drew from material from Ellison’s SOILDER and DEMON WITH A GLASS HAND episodes of the ABC television show, THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965). Ellison won his lawsuit despite the objections of James Cameron. I have seen SOLDIER episode of THE OUTER LIMITS and the similarity of the story to THE TERMINATOR is uncanny and supports Ellison’s claim of copyright infringement, but this real verifiable evidence brings us back to Stewart. Why didn’t she sue Cameron and Hurd in 1984 when THE TERMINATOR was first released? The original Terminator was a box office blockbuster when it was released in October of 1984 and I’m sure she would have noticed her material in this film at the time of its release as she did subsequently with the original release of THE MATRIX in 1999.
Another troubling aspect of her story is the mysterious ad that she alleges the Wachowski Brothers placed in a “national magazine” and that she responded to in 1986. As stated in the L.A. Times article by Kemp Powers, ”In 1986 Andy [Wachowski] was 18 and Larry [Wachowski] was a 24 year old college student,” so evidence of their ability and interest to place an ad in a national magazine, as well as, their ability to publish a comic book needs to be revealed. Stewart’s story never tells us what national magazine or the name of the comic book contest so that any real verifiable evidence is left wanting. With no evidence, her allegations of a conspiracy further circumvents any of the institutions that we have to investigate the validity of the conspiracy against her.
But what is it that makes Stewart’s lawsuit and the alleged conspiracy against a Black writer so compelling that every two or three years an announcement circulates throughout the internet that she has won her case? Is it that her claim of theft and financial injustice by a white controlled corporation reaches deep into the African-American psyche which itself holds on to the theft of our ancestors from Africa and the injustice (financial, physical and spiritual) we have suffered within a white controlled nation throughout history? The list of stolen Black copyrights, patents and ideas by whites –those that can be proven and those that can be believed- is as long as your belief in America as a system of oppression against African-Americans. Yet Stewart’s lawsuit and conspiracy returns again and again like a light-skinned relative that everyone whispers could pass for White at a Black family reunion. The answer is like a family secret that grandmother will carry to her grave.
My heart aches for Stewart because in one sense I want her claims to be true. I want her to win her case as a symbol of vindication and justice for all that Hollywood has taken and keeps from us as African-Americans. But to truly believe her conspiracy theory and her lawsuit I have to pretend to be ignorant. I have to pretend to be ignorant of the fact that Cameron and Hurd were already successfully sued by prolific science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison concerning work he had completed in the 1960’s. To believe in Stewart, I have to be ignorant of the fact that alternate reality/computer simulacrum themes had already been pursued in the works of prolific science-fiction author Phillip K. Dick (TOTAL RECALL/BLADE RUNNER/A SCANNER DARKLY) and specifically in the work of science-fiction author Daniel F. Galouye. In fact Galouye’s book, COUNTERFEIT WORLD (SIMULCRON 3) was the basis for the late great German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s rediscovered masterpiece, WORLD ON A WIRE (1973). Fassbinder’s film followed similar themes of a computer controlled alternate reality complete with headgear brain attachments and predated THE MATRIX by 26 years. To believe Stewart, I have to be ignorant of the fact that if you cut footage out of the final theatrical release of your film (before that film is ever seen by the public) that a lawsuit for copyright infringement can be won on the basis of what is left out of a film as opposed to what is actually in the film. And finally, to believe Stewart I have to pretend to be ignorant and that’s just something I’m not willing to do, regardless of how I feel against the white controlled entertainment industry.
But I must confess that all of this has been written to reveal and support one substantial truth; that whether we believe that Sophia Stewart was the victim of a vast Global corporate conspiracy or that she is another victimized genius whose work was stolen and unjustly exploited: the substantial truth is that as African-Americans we have got to make and distribute our own motion pictures. Hollywood was not invented for African-Americans. We not only have to start creating/supporting/and developing our own content, but we must also develop and control the distribution of that content on a global platform. If I were to believe that Sophia Stewart is the genius that she claims, then the greater tragedy is found in the fact that her work could not have been produced by any Black filmmaker between the years of 1981 – 1986. In fact no Black filmmaker today would have the power to produce a visionary science fiction film with a 100 million dollar budget within the severely curtained production/development deals allowed for African-American filmmakers by Hollywood. Not even the golden boy, Tyler Perry, could pull this off or for that matter would want to produce such a picture as narrowed and limited as he is by what he thinks African-Americans want to see. And this is the truth whether Stewart’s lawsuit is a conspiracy or a hoax.
1) “Black Author wins The Matrix Copyright Infringement Case” Download date 12/10/11 http://www.brandnewz.com/?p=3702
3) “The Billion Dollar Myth” by Kemp Powers, Download date 12/10/11. http://articles.latimes.com/2005/jul/31/magazine/tm-mothermatrix31
Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.