“The Shape Of Water” Oscar Wins Prove The Power Of Fan Fiction

Matthew Loffhagen
Fox Searchlight
(Photo: Fox Searchlight)

Fan fiction writers, take heart: The Motion Picture Academy has seen the labors of one of your fellow writers, and it has awarded him both a best picture and best director Oscar for his efforts.

Guillermo del Toro has been very upfront about where his inspiration for “The Shape of Water” came from. He was a fan of movies like “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” as a child, and always wanted to see the horrible fish monster actually get the girl at the end of the story.

Then, del Toro honed and polished this idea working on “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army,” as he told the story of a fish monster, played by Doug Jones, who falls in love with a pretty elf lady.

When “Hellboy 3” was ultimately scrapped, all seemed lost — del Toro wouldn’t be able to continue telling love stories centering around the comic book character Abe Sapien. So, he enlisted Jones to reprise his role as a somewhat obvious pastiche of Sapien, Swamp Thing, and all of these similar characters, and he created “The Shape of Water.”

It’s hard to imagine that this film would have won best picture at any other point in recent Hollywood history. A movie about a woman who falls in love with a fish isn’t exactly your typical Oscar bait.

2017 wasn’t a great year for movies in general, both in terms of the actual films that were released (it was a pretty weak year) and with regards to the many, many scandals that broke surrounding disgusting men who’d been sexually abusing their coworkers for decades.

Perhaps, as a palate cleanser, the Motion Picture Academy really just wanted a movie about a woman with a disability who is able to overcome systemic oppression and willingly enter into a nontraditional romance with someone who is decidedly not the typical portrayal of masculinity.

“The Shape of Water” was always more likely to click with the Academy than, say, “Get Out,” because the former of these two films deals with themes of bigotry in a safe, fantasy manner that allows old white people to feel like they’re not being personally called out for their bad behavior.

“Get Out” couldn’t have won best picture, because the movie’s central message — privileged white people who claim to support black equal rights aren’t as altruistic as they think they are — doesn’t play well with a room full of people for whom this message hits a little too close to home.

The Shape of Water in the Rain
Source: Fox Searchlight

So, instead, the best picture award went to the monster movie. While this might not be the most progressive move (the Oscar awards are, undoubtedly, more about politics than anything else), it still feels like a victory for a genre that is often overlooked when awards season rolls around.

If you’re the kind of person who writes fan fiction, don’t let anybody tell you that your chosen medium is worthless. Writing stories based on existing characters — even sexy stories where things get kinky — can be just as noteworthy and important as original concepts.

Ultimately, all stories are built on the backs of existing works. How overt you feel you need to be in order to get your point across will depend on what you’re writing, but if all you want to do is take an existing comic book character and give him a girlfriend, bear in mind that this kind of story is capable of winning an Oscar.

So, go out there, and write the quirkiest, weirdest fan fiction you want. Feel free to create a self-insert Mary Sue character if you feel the need. These stories are far from worthless, and you never know where your fascination with remixing existing characters may take you!