Entertainment

Harper Lee estate sues over Broadway's Mockingbird play

The estate of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee has sued the producer of an upcoming Broadway adaptation, arguing that writer Aaron Sorkin's script deviates too much from the beloved novel about race relations in the Depression-era U.S. South.

Aaron Sorkin's play slated to begin previews in November, open in December

The estate of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee is suing the producer of the novel's upcoming Broadway adaptation by Aaron Sorkin, arguing that the script deviates too much from the beloved novel. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The estate of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee has sued the producer of an upcoming Broadway adaptation, arguing that writer Aaron Sorkin's script deviates too much from the beloved novel about race relations in the Depression-era U.S. South.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday in federal court in Alabama asks a judge to resolve a contract dispute with producer Scott Rudin by giving the estate final say on whether Sorkin's script departs from the spirit of the 1960 novel or alters its characters.

The estate's representative, Tonja B. Carter, alleges that the script alters several characters, including protagonist Atticus Finch, who is portrayed as being initially naive to racism.

The script also "did not present a fair depiction of 1930s small-town Alabama" by tying it to today's social climate, according to the suit.

The lawsuit argues that Sorkin's Mockingbird script deviates too much from Lee's beloved novel about race relations in the Depression-era U.S. South. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Carter said Sorkin, an Oscar winner and the creator of Emmy-winning TV series including the political drama The West Wing, added two characters to the script and told trade magazine Playbill that the book as written "doesn't work at all" as a play.

Previews to start in November

The play is set to open in preview on Nov. 1 in New York and stars Jeff Daniels as Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man against a false rape charge in the racially charged 1930s South. Opening night is slated for Dec. 13.

Mockingbird stars Jeff Daniels, at right, as Atticus Finch, reuniting the actor with Sorkin, who also created the TV series The Newsroom. (HBO Canada)

Representatives for Rudin and Sorkin did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The suit alleges Rudin ignored and resisted Carter, and that a February draft of the play "exacerbated her concerns," according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.

In response, an attorney for Rudin's company, Rudinplay Inc, said in a letter to the estate that the company — and not the estate — had final say over the script, according to the lawsuit.

Rudin is a major Broadway and Hollywood producer, having won an Oscar and multiple Tony Awards, often earning honours for revivals of mid-century American theatre.

Lee died in 2016 at age 89.

Gregory Peck won a best actor Academy Award for his performance in the acclaimed 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. (AP/Universal File)

To Kill a Mockingbird was met with high praise on its publication, winning the Pulitzer Prize and earning Gregory Peck an Academy Award for best actor in the acclaimed 1962 screen adaptation.

In Lee's only other novel, Go Set a Watchman, published in 2015 but written before Mockingbird, Finch is depicted as a bigot and racist who opposed desegregation efforts in the United States.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.