In 1962, Hollywood adapted Harper Lee’s masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” for the screen in faithful-to-the-book fashion as written by Horton Foote. Although some less crucial characters were left out, the film elegantly captured the mood and characters from the novel, and became an instant classic, as Gregory Peck, in the role of his career, won an Oscar, and the supporting cast was nothing less than stellar.
But now, Hollywood has come calling again, and with its current habit of refashioning every story to fit its leftist political agenda, is messing with Lee’s work for a Broadway version of the story.
One would expect no less; leftist icon Aaron Sorkin was hired to write the adaptation, and producer Scott Rudin, who was sued by the University of the South, which owns the rights to plays by Tennessee Williams, over credit and royalties from last year’s Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie,” is in charge of the Broadway regurgitation.
As a result of the changes the Broadway version has made with essential elements of Lee’s story, the Lee estate (Lee died in 2015 at the age of 89) is filing suit against the production. As The New York Times reports, “In a complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Alabama, the estate argued that Mr. Sorkin’s adaptation deviates too much from the novel, and violates a contract, between Ms. Lee and the producers, which stipulates that the characters and plot must remain faithful to the spirit of the book.”
One of the chief complaints of the Lee estate is that Atticus Finch, the central character of the novel, is not portrayed as a man who was always fair-minded about race, but a man who is an apologist for racism that existed at the time of the story, 1930s Alabama.
The Times reports, “In February, the lawsuit says, Tonja B. Carter, the lawyer Ms. Lee appointed to run her estate, met with Scott Rudin, a producer of the play, for one to two hours to express ‘serious concerns about the script.’” The lawsuit acknowledges, “At times, the conversation was heated.” At one point, Carter wrote, “This Atticus is more like an edgy sitcom dad in the 21st Century than the iconic Atticus of the novel.”
The contract between the parties states, “the Play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.” Rudin and his associates claim they are faithful to the novel, and add that they get to make the final decision about how the novel will be delivered on stage.
Rudin pontificated, “I can’t and won’t present a play that feels like it was written in the year the book was written in terms of its racial politics: It wouldn’t be of interest. The world has changed since then.” He claimed he was surprised by the estate’s reaction because Carter had been a vital part of publishing “Go Set a Watchman,” also written by Lee and published in 2015, that portrayed a much older Atticus as a racist and segregationist.
The lawsuit states, “Based on Ms. Lee’s own father, a small-town Alabama lawyer who represented black defendants in a criminal trial, Atticus Finch is portrayed in the novel as a model of wisdom, integrity, and professionalism.”
But Sorkin told The New Yorker last September that the children in the novel, Jem, Scout, and Dill, would not speak the way Lee had written them, but instead sound like his own writing: “I didn’t write their language like they were children.” To make matters worse, he stated:
As far as Atticus and his virtue goes, this is a different take on Mockingbird than Harper Lee’s or Horton Foote’s. … He becomes Atticus Finch by the end of the play, and while he’s going along, he has a kind of running argument with Calpurnia, the housekeeper, which is a much bigger role in the play I just wrote. He is in denial about his neighbors and his friends and the world around him, that it is as racist as it is, that a Maycomb County jury could possibly put Tom Robinson in jail when it’s so obvious what happened here. He becomes an apologist for these people.
The play is scheduled to open December 13.