Harper Lee's estate to sue over Broadway version of Mockingbird

Harper Lee's estate to sue over Broadway version of Mockingbird

The estate of Harper Lee is reportedly suing the producers of a much-anticipated Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The estate has argued that that Hollywood screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's script differs too much from the iconic book exploring race relations in the Deep South, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The lawsuit was filed after estate representative and lawyer Tonja Carter read the script of the play and Sorkin gave various media interviews over his interpretation of the book. The news comes weeks after Lee’s will was unsealed, showing that the bulk of her assets, including her literary properties, were transferred to a trust controlled by Carter - who has previously attracted controversy for her dealings over the author's affairs, including her discovery of Lee's "surprise" second novel Go Set a Watchman.

Play producer Scott Rudin denies Carter’s claims, saying his team has the final say over the script rather than the estate.

According to the 16-page civil action suit lodged with the US district of Alabama, Lee optioned a live stage version to Rudin on in June 2015, just months before she died at the age of 89. Rudin paid $100,000 plus a share of royalties.

The dispute lies around creative authority and whether Sorkin's script strays too far from the novel.

The estate has claimed that some characters are altered, including lawyer Atticus Finch, who is due to be played by Jeff Daniels. The lawsuit also alleges that the script does not present a fair depiction of small-town Alabama in the 1930s.

The lawsuit points to an interview Sorkin gave with Vulture in September 2017, in which he was asked, “how the younger characters… are going to speak Sorkin”.

He said: “Well, they’re gonna have to. Because I didn’t write their language like they were children.”

In the interview he also described how “as far as Atticus and his virtue goes, this is a different take on Mockingbird than Harper Lee’s or Horton Foote’s [who wrote the screenplay for the 1962 film adaptation].”

According to the complainant, the estate first “expressed concern” days after the interview and a subsequent piece with Playbill were published in September 2017.

Rudin's representatives have said that it is the producers’ right to judge whether the adaptation is faithful to the novel.

"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 told the New York Times, which first reported on the lawsuit. "The world has changed since then."

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Carter is seeking a declaratory judgment about what the contract requires. She is also requesting the judge find that the play alters characters, the 1930s Alabama setting and the book's depiction of the legal proceedings against Tom Robinson.

To Kill a Mockingbird was first published in 1960 by William Heinemann in the UK and by Lippincott in the US. It was adapted into the Hollywood film by Foote, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, two years later.

Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, where she attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama. Despite winning numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she stayed in Monroeville until 2014.

Altogether Lee has sold more than 2.3 million copies for £15m according to Nielsen BookScan. Around 535,000 copies and just under £5m derive from Go Set a Watchman with To Kill A Mockingbird also predating BookScan by many years.