A new Broadway production of To Kill A Mockingbird won’t be in previews until November, but the script from Aaron Sorkin has already raised some serious objections from the estate of the late Harper Lee.
The New York Times reports Tonja B. Carter, an attorney and executor of Lee’s estate, filed suit in Alabama against Rudinplay, the production company founded by Scott Rudin that’s behind the adaptation. Carter’s complaint states that the adaptation, written by Sorkin, “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.”
Carter raised concerns about two characters that appear in the play but were not in the source material, but what she’s really taken exception with is the revised arc of Atticus Finch, who’s long been considered one of American literature’s most noble characters. In Sorkin’s adaptation, Atticus is “a man who begins the drama as a naïve apologist for the racial status quo, a depiction at odds with his purely heroic image in the novel,” which Lee’s estate believes runs counter to his original characterization. Carter caught wind of the changes after reading an interview with Sorkin, in which he said the character of Calpurnia would have an expanded role in the play, including informing Atticus’ sense of social justice. So she met with the production team last month, but left the meeting without a sense of resolution.
The contract between Lee’s estate and Rudinplay clearly states that “the Play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.” The lawsuit notes that Atticus Finch was modeled after Lee’s father, so this is major sticking point. Rudin’s lawyer pointed to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s own changes to the Atticus character in Go Set A Watchman, while the producer told the NYT that he “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.”