Can a fantastical movie be too historically accurate? Dr. Jaime Awe, director of the Institute of Archeology of Belize, has filed suit against Lucasfilm and Paramount Pictures claiming that the prop skull from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull bears a striking resemblance to one of the “real” Crystal Skulls originally discovered in Belize. So why is that a problem? Well, according to Awe, the skull was stolen, and the filmmakers are profitting off of ill-gotten goods.
The Hollywood Reporter broke the news of Awe’s suit and its history. In the complaint he filed with the US District Court in Illinois (embedded below), Awe explains the history of the so-called “Mitchell-Hedges Skull.” The Mitchell-Hedges Skull was allegedly discovered in 1924 by Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges, adopted daughter of the adventurer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges. The Mitchell-Hedges removed the skull from Belize in 1930, in violation of laws that were already in place forbidding the removal of artifacts and antiquities from Belize. (Edit: Commenters MissRaye and ryanwkirkmanryanwkirkman note that many archaeologists believe the Mitchell-Hedges Skull to be a hoax; you can read our piece about Crystal Skulls, including the Mitchell-Hedges Skull and other skulls found to be of modern origin.)
Awe claims that the Crystal Skull from the film bears a striking resemblance to the Mitchell-Hedges Skull (though as some folks are noting in the comments, those resemblances seem to be that they are both transparent are somewhat skull-shaped; the movie skull is less human) and thus must have been based on its likeness. Awe goes on to allege that Lucasfilm never approached Belize for permission to use the skull’s likeness, although Awe claims that “Belize has a right, title and interest in and to the Mitchell-Hedges Skull.” Awe is suing the Mitchell-Hedges estates as well as Bill Homann, the late Anna’s husband and current custodian of the skull, for the return of the skull, and is suing Lucasfilm (and Disney as the parent company) and Paramount for tortious interference with prospective economic benefit and civil conspiracy.
I’ve only glanced through the complaint, and I’m not familiar with international laws regarding relics. But I don’t see anything in the complaint that explains under what statute or common law provision Lucasfilm et al. are violating by using the skull’s likeness, even on the off chance that the skull does turn out to be a genuine artifact rather than a more modern creation. This may be more of an attempt to bring attention to Belize’s troubles with illegally removed artifacts or to draw attention to Belize as a home to archaeological artifacts. (Edit: Or perhaps he’s looking to resolve the question of whether the skull is a hoax.)