Harper Lee’s iconic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a stark portrayal of race relations in the deep South during the 1930s, but a planned Broadway play by Aaron Sorkin is failing to adhere to its themes and context, according to a lawsuit filed by the author’s estate.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” was published to critical acclaim in 1960 and immortalized in a 1962 movie by the same name starring Gregory Peck.
Peck won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of protagonist Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a sleepy southern town who takes on an incendiary case involving a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman.
The book was adapted for a play only one other time by Christopher Sergel. It debuted in 1990 in Monroeville, Ala., and runs every May on the county courthouse grounds. Local folk make up the cast. The play has also been produced in the United Kingdom.
Sorkin and producer Scott Rudin have been named as defendants in the suit, which could raise some interesting questions about copyrights and how far an adaptation can deviate from its original work.
In the new production, Jeff Daniels is slated to star as Finch. Previews were scheduled to begin Nov. 1, but the lawsuit now puts that date in question.
Lee died in 2016 at 89. Tonja B. Carter, a lawyer representing Lee’s estate, charges in court papers that several characters, including Finch, are not true to their portrayal in the book.
Finch, for one, is portrayed as being naive about racism when he takes the case. The script also “did not present a fair depiction of 1930s small-town Alabama.” Instead, the play uses today’s social climate as a backdrop, according to the suit.
In addition, Sorkin added two characters to the play who don’t appear in the book to make the plot work as a stage play, according to court papers.
The estate has asked a federal judge in Alabama to give it final say over Sorkin’s script to ensure it’s in keeping with the 1960 novel.
Lawyers for Rudin and his company Rudinplay Inc, countered in a letter to the estate, insisting that they have final say over the script.
Rudin, a veteran of Broadway and Hollywood, is the only producer to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award. He won the Oscar in 2008 for producing the Coen Brothers‘ movie “No Country for Old Men.”
Sorkin is also an Oscar winner and the creator of several Emmy-winning TV series. He won his Oscar for best adapted screenplay for the movie “The Social Network.”