Aaron Sorkin has been slapped by a lawsuit from the estate of writer Harper Lee over his upcoming Broadway adaptation of her iconic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
According to the New York Times, a complaint filed Tuesday in an Alabama federal court argues that 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.”
The dispute centres around the character of Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film), with the estate’s suit claiming that Sorkin’s version of the crusading attorney begins as “a naive apologist for the racial status quo” and eventually evolves to become the crusading lawyer of the book and movie, who defends a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in a small Southern town where racism is the norm.
The Times reports that Lee estate lawyer Tonja B. Carter read a draft and was not happy with the way Atticus was depicted, with the suit also citing the addition of two characters not in the book, as well as changes to the characters of Jem and Scout, the children of Atticus.
In addition, the suit refers to a Vulture interview with Sorkin in which he explains how Atticus evolves throughout the course of the play.
“As far as Atticus and his virtue goes, this is a different take on Mockingbird than Harper Lee’s or Horton Foote’s,” said Sorkin. “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.”
Producer Scott Rudin, however, is backing Sorkin in this legal battle. “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,” he told the Times. “It wouldn’t be of interest.”
Rudin also shared a letter from Carter that blasts Sorkin’s Atticus as “more like an edgy sitcom dad in the 21st Century than the iconic Atticus of the novel.”
In addition, Rudin released a statement about the lawsuit: “This adaptation by Aaron Sorkin of To Kill a Mockingbird is a faithful adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, which has been crafted within the constraints of the agreement executed by both Harper Lee and the play’s producers before Ms. Lee’s death,” he said. “This action undertaken by the estate of Harper Lee is an unfortunate step in a situation where there is simply artistic disagreement over the creation of a play that Ms. Lee herself wanted to see produced, and is the kind of disagreement which one expects would be worked out easily between two parties who have a mutual interest in seeing a work produced.”
He continued: “The estate has an unfortunate history of litigious behaviour and of both filing and being the recipient of numerous lawsuits, and has been the subject of considerable controversy surrounding its handling of the work of Harper Lee both during her illness and after her death. This is, unfortunately, simply another such lawsuit, the latest of many, and we believe that it is without merit. While we hope this gets resolved, if it does not, the suit will be vigorously defended.”