An English Instructor Asks: Did Greta Gerwig Plagiarize Lady Bird?


PC: Johanna via Creative Commons

I’m just going to say it—the movie Lady Bird, which will win awards this awards season, is plagiarized. It’s the white-lady Real Women Have Curves — a Latina themed movie that came out fifteen years ago in 2002.

 A busy mom, writer, and community college English instructor, I finally got a chance to see Lady Bird the other night, and I sat in a row with two other women who, like me, came to see it alone and late in the season. Even though I laughed in all the places, writer/director Greta Gerwig, would have me laugh, I also felt underwhelmed and I didn’t know why until a near copy of a scene from Real Women Have Curves flashed up on the screen, and it hit me. I’ve seen this movie before and a better version of it. To be fair, I will concede that I might like Real Women Have Curves better because it resonated with me both as woman and culturally. I am a Xicana; I was born in LA where the movie is set, and I rebelled against my mom’s favorite activity sewing, opting to play drums in a punk band instead. However, none of that excuses plagiarism.  I’ll still argue that Real Women Have Curves is a better movie and that Greta Gerwig stole it, colonized it, and will get all the recognition for creating something new, something unique, “one of the best reviewed movies of all time.”

Once the movie was over, ending quite similarly than Curves with the protagonist, Lady Bird, having gotten into college in New York even after her mom said that she would only go as far as the local community college. I had time to kill since I was waiting for my son to finish up a gig he was playing at a nearby hotel. I sat down in the movie theater lobby to think more about how I was feeling: confused, guilty for not liking a movie that got a near perfect rotten tomatoes score, angry that it seemed no one else saw what I saw, or worse, they saw it and nobody was saying anything because whiteness still rules in Hollywood. I pulled out my phone to do a search; surely the internet could tell me how to feel. Someone else out there must have seen the similarities, I thought. Someone else must have saw what I saw in that movie theater, a movie written and directed by a white woman who was clearly more than inspired by Real Women Have Curves, a white woman who copied the film written and directed by Latinas, a white woman who is now going to win awards for a movie that I’m sure has many autobiographical aspects, but is basically stolen from the plot of another movie –plagiarized. “A la chingada!” as my grandmother used to say.

Of course, it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who saw it Matthew Rodriguez points it out in his article for Into, and he expresses a thought that was simmering around inside me, “Curves doesn’t get quite the reputation it deserves. It doesn’t get cited like it should, though, at the time, it did something for Latinas — and women, in general.” Rodriguez doesn’t go as far as to use the P word, plagiarism, to describe Lady Bird, but he does urge readers to write about Curves and to tweet about it too to “allow it to live longer.” Enter this critique, only, I won’t be spelling out the similarities because I wouldn’t want to appear plagiarize Rodriguez who did that already in his article, and college English instructors don’t like plagiarism or lack of creativity. I will, however, quote my friend and fellow writer Anna Armstrong who helpfully watched Real Women Have Curves and assured me that I wasn’t being petty or just going mad with the community college English instructor privilege: “You’re not crazy,” Anna wrote on my Facebook page,  “It’s the same skeleton of a story. And the characters are so similar – the loving but hardened mother, the spirited daughter who years for independence, the quiet understanding father who mediates – it’s all there. And Lady Bird completely plagiarized that last scene when Ana is leaving for college and Carmen refuses to come out of the room. The fact that Carmen makes an attempt but fails makes the scene more poignant than the one in Lady Bird.”  

This kind of plagiarism by Hollywood and the ripping-off of unique ideas by peoples who it continues to largely ignore or only feature in caricature has happened before. One example that comes to mind is Kimba the Lion, the Japanese anime cartoon that Disney seems to have ripped off in the form of The Lion King. And then there’s the caricature in the terrible depiction of Frida Kahlo as narcissistic and self-absorbed in the recently released Coco, a movie that boasted several Latino advisors, advisors who somehow allowed the depiction of the dead to be required to go through border patrol and “show their papers” on their trip back for Dia de los Muertos to get a laugh. Ay, Hollywood, when will you ever get it right?

Had Gerwig only cited her source, I wouldn’t be, as my students like to say, “putting her on blast” nor would I be giving her an F. And in not citing her source she did plagiarize, as according to my college’s academic honesty one generally recognized aspects of plagiarism “is defined as… Overusing the ideas of a source, so that those ideas make up the majority of one’s work.” And by “overusing the ideas of a source” we’re talking about the movie Real Women Have Curves directed by Patricia Cardoso, and whose screenplay was written by Josefina Lopez and George LaVoo, based on a play that Lopez wrote about her own high school experiences.

Now, if only the film industry was held to the same standards as college students all over the Americas. Until then, I’m happy to serve as the Latina .











  1. How do you know that Real Women have Curves was her source? Both movies resonated with me- for different reasons. Many mothers want their daughters near. Many parents go through measures to stop said daughter from leaving- tossing acceptance letters, not correctly relaying messages, guilt tripping child…. this is a lived reality for many. This is not a unique story. Leaving and being the only or first to do so is hard and heart wrenching for all. The movie that showed this for me the best was La Tarantella. Except it showed a daughter who left and didn’t turn back. It profoundly affected me when I was debating whether or not to leave my hometown to pursue a degree. It came out in 1995.

    1. Given that Gerwig presents cheating in the film–not just “cheating on a quiz” but Ladybird actually deliberately falsifies her grades in a class–as the one thing in the film that Ladybird never has to fess up to, and also the thing that gets her into the exclusive east coast college of her dreams–as a totally ok thing to do, would it be strange if the film itself was an example of intellectual dishonesty? Gerwig seems to regard cheating as a whimsical thing to do, not any sort of failure of integrity or morality in the least. It drives me crazy that all these reviews talk about how wonderful and “real” the film is, and all these mother-daughter pairs raving about how “real” it is…and if its so real, what mother would conscience her daughter saying “Oh, I falsified my math grades to get into Sarah Lawrence, because I didn’t want to go to Davis. I hope that’s ok mom.”

      1. Yes. Ladybird gets away with all kinds of shit someone should have called her on. No one takes her to task for her behavior, most likely because it isn’t quite realistic. It’s fiction so it doesn’t have to be. This stunt was not “real” because it is not believable as something a senior could do and get away with. The administration would have been involved; there would have been real consequences. Yet it rings true in that it calls attention to a very real, flawed attitude. It suggests that the outcome- a good grade, acceptance to college, and escaping to the East Coast- is more important than that which is actually learned or the integrity of the individual. While these ends do not justify any means, the reality is that many people care more about what they get than what they do. Some want to do the least amount of work for the most amount of money. This both contradicts and embodies the American Dream. I see calling attention to this as critical of society’s work ethic not an endorsement of cheating. You might think that it misses the mark, that it is not relatable, that it is annoying, that it is poorly presented, acted, written, or conceived; however, it does not show that Greta Gerwig thinks cheating is no big deal. Nor does it reveal anything about her integrity.

  2. No shade, but look up Anywhere But Here. Similar plot devices and coming-of-age scenarios as represented in RWHC and Lady Bird, and it was released in 1999.

  3. Ugh I came here to say the same thing the previous poster said.
    the ending of RWHCs (2002) is stolen from the documentary American Teen (2014!).
    Then assuming RWHCs is semiautobiographical it makes sense (to me) that what you identified is the American feminist rite of passage story. The differences between LB and RWHCs then seem to be mostly the prejudice against Latinx film perpetuated by the industry and culture.
    The good news is feminists are telling their stories and gaining an audience albeit one culture at a time.
    I think it’s helpful to discuss the films together because it broadens then potential audience of forerunners.
    I haven’t seen ladybird yet.
    Saw anywhere but here yrs ago, coming of age I guess.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s