|2005-05-12 - 12:54 a.m.
The Matrix: Ripped Off
The Matrix: Ripped Off
by Sabrina Ford
Sophia Stewart is pissed off. “They didn’t expect me to go to the feds,” she says, “They didn’t expect this case to blow up this huge.” They includes Warner Brothers, Fox Studios, James Cameron, the Wachowski brothers, and Joel Silver. This case is one of the most fascinating and controversial cases that you may have never heard of.
Sophia Stewart, a black woman residing in Salt Lake City, is alleging that the internationally successful film that we all know as "The Matrix," was actually taken from her screen treatment and epic, "The Third Eye." Stewart also says that in the process of investigating her copyright infringement case, the FBI discovered that there was strong evidence linking "The Terminator," a film Stewart had never seen and therefore never sought compensation for, to "The Third Eye" as well.
Skeptical? I was too. I heard an interview with Stewart on Northern California’s KPFA show, "Hard Knock Radio." I was intrigued but befuddled. I didn’t understand how this could be so hidden for so long. I know that Hollywood is big business and that it can be cutthroat, but would the Wachowskis and Warner Brothers be so bold as to blatantly steal "The Matrix?" Why weren’t Barbara Walters and Ed Bradley knocking down her doorstep trying to get an interview? Well, even if they weren’t interested, I sure as hell was.
I had to find out what Sophia Stewart was about, but when I reached her by phone for a morning interview I was not initially greeted so warmly. “Yes, I’ve been waiting for you,” she said coolly. I was running a bit late. It wasn’t too long though, before Stewart warmed up and relaxed a bit.
She seemed genuinely appreciative for the opportunity to get her story out, and explains that she was originally inspired to write "The Third Eye" when was a film student at the University of Southern California and saw "Star Wars." She picked up on some heavy symbolism in the movie and tells me, “Star Wars is the wars in heaven and Dark Vader is Satan falling from the light to the dark side. So I thought, ‘No one has ever done the second coming of Christ in a science fiction form.’”
In response to me asking how this could have possibly happened, how her story could have been so blatantly ripped off and turned into several multi-million dollar blockbusters, Stewart says that there are two different ways that the producers of "The Matrix" and "The Terminator" could have gotten a hold of "The Third Eye."
Stewart claims that in 1981, she sent an unfinished version of what would become "The Third Eye" to Fox Studios. Stewart was contacted by a woman who worked at Fox, asking that Stewart resend "The Third Eye" once it was completed and told her that Fox was interested in the story. However, by the time Stewart finished "The Third Eye," the woman had left Fox to work for Paramount.
Later on in 1986, Stewart sent "The Third Eye" as a completed epic, along with graphics and illustrations, in response to an ad in which the Wachowskis called for submisions of manuscripts that they could turn into a comic book.
After submitting "The Third Eye," Stewart never heard anything from Fox, Paramount, or the Wachowskis.
In the meantime, Stewart explains, "The Third Eye" was circulating around Hollywood. In 1984 James Cameron filmed "The Terminator," and over a decade later in 1999, Stewart and a friend went to see "The Matrix." She watched the film in total shock. Stewart says she then contacted Warner Brothers and after talks with Warner Brothers and a lawyer, she was offered a settlement. The lawyer advised Stewart to abort the settlement and she is now set to go to trial in July of this year.
After talking to Stewart -- and having her answer all of my questions quickly and in detail, providing names and dates, and sounding so sure -- I had to ask myself, how could she possibly have made this up? I spoke to Stewart for well over an hour about "The Third Eye" and about her case.
Stewart claims that she doesn’t just want money, which is why she says the settlement was aborted -- she is pursuing criminal charges. “Somebody is going to go to jail. We are tired of people stealing our creative work. We’re going to make the government enforce those copyright laws.”
Stewart adds that the theft of creative work is far too common in Hollywood and that big studios have gotten away with it for so long because of their power and influence. She says of the pressures, “If you don’t do what they say they black ball you. Secretly all of Hollywood is behind me. They want to bring the studios down. They know about these thefts.”
“They’ve called me,” says Stewart of others who have gotten in touch with her telling similar stories of theft. “There are so many people that have been stolen from.” Among the works that people are claiming were stolen from them are, "The Fast and the Furious," "Life," and "Drumline."
Most appalling, says Stewart, is the fact that it would’ve been so easy for the studios to pay her for her work. “It’s a greater crime for the rich to steal because they have the money to pay for it. Why should the poor and the weak suffer? We’re not going to take anymore crap.”
Stewart says that she isn’t just fighting for herself, but for all of the writers who have had their work stolen from them. She wants people to know that they need to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. “If somebody took something from you, stand up. Fight. God will provide everything else for you. You don’t need money and power. Those are illusions.”
Stewart calls herself a master writer and sites the success of "The Terminator" and "The Matrix" as evidence of her gift. She studied film at University of Southern California, once worked closely with the Jackson family conceptualizing acting projects for a young Janet, and has a son who is pursuing a rap career. She says that it is because she always gives honor to God that she will be rewarded.
In writing "The Third Eye," Stewart says she wanted to show black people in roles that they’d never been cast in before. “I got so sick of those blaxplotation movies. I was tired of seeing black people as pimps and hoes. I wanted some black super heroes for our children to look up to. "The Matrix" is a black science fiction, the first of its kind, that’s why it was so special.”
She scoffs at the idea that the Wachowskis, two white men, would have created those black characters. “What would they have to do with a black oracle and black super hero? They’re not activists,” she laughs.
As to what exactly she is claiming was taken from her book and what was embellished, Stewart says that minor changes were made, but they don’t conceal the fact that the work is hers. “‘I’ll be back’ is a direct quote from my book,” says Stewart citing the line made famous the world over by current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator."
Even though an undeniable factor in the success of "The Matrix" and "The Terminator" were the big-budget special effects, Stewart still claims that she should receive the bulk of the credit for the films, explaining that her screen treatment and the work she sent in to the Wachowskis laid out a solid foundation on which the special effects were based. Stewart even goes so far as to say that the awards that were given to the special effects crew for “The Matrix” should actually be given to her.
“Let me take your coat, your name is written inside of it, right? Well on the outside I’m gonna try to make it look like mine. I’m gonna put patches on it. I’m gonna put pins on it. I’m gonna put writing on it. But you’re gonna look at it and say, ‘That’s my coat. I don’t care what you put on it.’ And if you grab it and take it to the principal’s office and he looks inside of it, he’s gonna see your name.”
According to Stewart, if she wins all of the damages and compensation she is asking for, she stands to win over a billion dollars. And the marriage proposals have already begun. “They’re just thinking about a rich wife. Some of them are cute though,” she says of the men who have sent her photos or approached her.
“I’m having my victory party at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas,” she says. Stewart also plans on distributing movies and music with a spiritual message, donate to several churches, build a sound studio, and help her son with his rap career.
Stewart would also be able to release "The Third Eye" as a book, which she is unable to do now, as the book is physical evidence in the case. She also has another story "Soul-less," which she will develop into a film. She believes that "Soul-less" could out do the popularity of "The Matrix" and "The Terminator." “The saga continues,” she says.
She doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about matching the success of the other films and confidently declares, “A master will keep creating.” Stewart , who seems optimistic and is definitely feelin’ herself, says that soon the world will find out that, in her words, “I’m the real thing like Coca-Cola.”
Sabrina Ford is a student at San Francisco State University where she also works with the Center for Integration and Improvement in Journalism.
April 14, 2005
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