The Broadway world is buzzing over the adaptation of Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, set to hit theaters late this year, but a lawsuit brought by the estate of the late author is seeking to put a halt to the Aaron Sorkin adaptation, due to its interpretation of the character of Atticus Finch.
Lee’s estate filed its complaint last week in Alabama Federal Court against the director and Academy Award winner Sorkin, arguing that it strays too far away from the original piece of work and its overall themes. The 1960 novel portrays the effect that a rape trial has on a small southern town, as a white woman accuses a black man of the crime, with Finch defending the accused. The estate believes Sorkin’s version portrays Finch as a “naïve apologist for the racial status quo,” according to The New York Times.
“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,” the suit states. Additionally, it reads that Lee has “the absolute and unconditional right to approve the Playwright for the Play.” The contract grants Lee the right to make comments about the playwright that “shall be considered in good faith.” However, since Lee -who died in 2016 – isn’t here to speak her side, it’s up to the estate.
Tonja B. Carter, a representative for the estate on behalf of Lee, met with the producer, Scott Rudin, for two hours to discuss elements within Sorkin’s version of the play, according to the lawsuit. To both parties’ dismay, the meeting ended without a resolution. Rudin and Sorkin are continuing to stick by their adaptation, and although hearing out Carter’s opinions, they ultimately believe they have the right to proceed with production however they’d like.
“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,” Rudin said in an interview. “The world has changed since then.”
In an interview on Live with Ryan & Kelly, Tony-nominee and actor Jeff Daniels said Sorkin’s crew are “going to do it like it is,” and delve a little deeper past the pages in Lee’s book. Daniels, who will play the star role as Atticus, will perform alongside Celia Keenan-Bloger as Scout, Will Pullen as her brother, Jem, and Gideon Glick as Dill. Arthur (Boo) Radley’s role has yet to be officially announced.
“Aaron Sorkin is one of the leading writers in America,” Rudin’s lawyer, Jonathon Zavin, told The Times. “He would hardly be needed to write the play if the intent was to merely do a transcription of the novel on the stage. Presumably Ms. Lee was well aware that Mr. Sorkin would be bringing his perspective and talent to the play, and that the play would not be identical in all respects to the novel.”
Whether the play strays from the novel or not, it is likely to make noise in the theater scene – Rudin produced the Oscar nominated film, Ladybird, and took home the winning title of two Tony Awards for his production, Hello, Dolly! This is the second time Rudin and Sorkin are teaming up, following their HBO drama, The Newsroom.
The play will hit the stage on December 13, 56 years following the film adaptation starring Gregory Peck.