Harper Lee’s Estate Sues Over Broadway Version of ‘Mockingbird’


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The contract the events signed states that “the Play shall not derogate or depart in any method from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.” The Rudin group is arguing it doesn’t, and that, whereas the producers should take heed to the property’s view, they’re the ultimate arbiters of whether or not the manufacturing is devoted to the novel.

“I can’t and received’t current a play that feels prefer it was written within the yr the e book was written by way of its racial politics: It wouldn’t be of curiosity,” Mr. Rudin mentioned in an interview. “The world has modified since then.”

The play, which is scheduled to start previews Nov. 1 and to open Dec. 13 on Broadway, is a joint manufacturing of Mr. Rudin and Lincoln Middle Theater.


The producer Scott Rudin, accepting an award with the solid of “Hi there, Dolly!” on the 2017 Tony Awards. He’s now embroiled within the dispute over “Mockingbird.”

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Theo Wargo/Getty Photographs for Tony Awards Productions

A lawyer who filed the lawsuit for Ms. Lee’s property, Matthew H. Lembke, declined to remark.

There’s a lengthy historical past of writers and others who declare authorship bringing authorized motion towards theatrical producers, though these disputes have sometimes been over credit score, not content material. Amongst latest examples had been lawsuits over “Anastasia,” “Jersey Boys,” “Fela!” and “Lease” — none of which stopped the productions. Final yr Mr. Rudin was sued by the College of the South, which owns the rights to performs by Tennessee Williams, over credit score and royalties from final yr’s Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie.”

Literary estates may also be fairly aggressive in looking for to manage numerous parts of theatrical productions. The property of Samuel Beckett has been famously restrictive, and the property of Edward Albee reserves the best to approve artistic groups and casts for productions of his performs.

The “Mockingbird” adaptation is being directed by Bartlett Sher, who has in depth expertise wrestling with authorial intent — this season he’s directing a revival of “My Honest Girl,” and he beforehand directed Broadway revivals of “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The King and I” and “South Pacific.”

The solid is led by Jeff Daniels, as Atticus, and consists of Celia Keenan-Bolger as his daughter Scout, Will Pullen as her brother Jem and Gideon Glick as their pal Dill. Casting for the function of Arthur (Boo) Radley has not but been introduced.

Mr. Rudin mentioned he was stunned by the property’s criticism of Mr. Sorkin’s depiction of Atticus as a result of Ms. Carter had been instrumental within the 2015 publication of “Go Set a Watchman,” an early draft of “Mockingbird” that depicted an aged Atticus as a racist and segregationist.

The lawsuit states that the play shouldn’t deviate from the depiction of Atticus in “Mockingbird,” the place he’s introduced as a defender of racial equality in a divided south. “Primarily based on Ms. Lee’s personal father, a small-town Alabama lawyer who represented black defendants in a legal trial, Atticus Finch is portrayed within the novel as a mannequin of knowledge, integrity, and professionalism,” the swimsuit says.

Ms. Lee signed the contract authorizing the play in June 2015, eight months earlier than she died at age 89. She acquired $100,000 for the manufacturing rights, in addition to what Broadway consultants described as a beneficiant portion of the field workplace income and any internet revenue.

The dispute erupted final fall when Ms. Carter noticed a draft of the script, and was alarmed by what she seen as liberties taken with the supply materials. The swimsuit cites an interview Mr. Sorkin did final fall the place he described how Atticus evolves over the course of the play, partly by his interactions with the Finch household’s black maid, Calpurnia, who has a a lot bigger function within the drama. Ms. Carter was additionally troubled by the addition of two characters who don’t seem within the e book, and by what the criticism describes as modifications to the characters of Atticus’s youngsters, Jem and Scout.


A distinct dramatic adaptation of “Mockingbird,” this one by Christopher Sergel, is historically introduced yearly in Harper Lee’s hometown, Monroeville, Ala.

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Jeff Haller for The New York Occasions

Within the interview Mr. Sorkin gave New York Journal about his adaptation, he described his reinterpretation of Atticus’s ethical evolution. “So far as Atticus and his advantage goes, it is a completely different tackle Mockingbird than Harper Lee’s or Horton Foote’s,” he mentioned. “He turns into Atticus Finch by the tip of the play.”

The transfer to claim extra management over the play is maybe an indication of how Ms. Carter views her function as a guardian of Ms. Lee’s legacy. In her ultimate years, Ms. Lee went to courtroom to guard her mental property, and sued a museum in her hometown, Monroeville, in 2013, arguing that it had infringed on Ms. Lee’s trademark by promoting “Mockingbird” themed T-shirts and trinkets (the swimsuit was settled in 2014).

Mr. Rudin alluded to that lawsuit in an announcement that mentioned the “property has an unlucky historical past of litigious conduct and of each submitting and being the recipient of quite a few lawsuits, and has been the topic of appreciable controversy based mostly on the perceptions surrounding its dealing with of the work of Harper Lee each earlier than and after her loss of life.”

“That is, sadly,” the assertion continued, “merely one other such lawsuit, the newest of many, and we consider that it’s with out benefit. Whereas we hope this will get resolved, if it doesn’t, the swimsuit shall be vigorously defended.”

The “Mockingbird” lawsuit was preceded by a collection of letters between the events as they debated the script. In a single letter, dated March 5 and launched by Mr. Rudin’s workplace, Ms. Carter expressed concern that Atticus within the play is depicted as “impolite and egocentric” in addition to “extra confrontational and much much less dignified.”

“This Atticus,” she wrote, “is extra like an edgy sitcom dad within the 21st Century than the long-lasting Atticus of the novel.”

She additionally objected to what she described as “large alteration” to the characters of Calpurnia and Tom Robinson, to plot parts that she says fluctuate from these within the e book, and to the depiction of small-town Alabama within the 1930s.

Mr. Rudin’s lawyer, Jonathan Zavin, responded 4 days later, defending the play, acknowledging that whereas it’s “completely different from the novel,” it “doesn’t derogate or depart from the spirit of the novel, nor alter the basic natures of the characters within the novel.” He famous that Ms. Lee herself had “added to the novel and its characters” with the publication of “Watchman.”

Moreover, he argued: “Aaron Sorkin is without doubt one of the main writers in America. He would hardly be wanted to put in writing the play if the intent was to merely do a transcription of the novel on the stage. Presumably Ms. Lee was properly conscious that Mr. Sorkin can be bringing his perspective and expertise to the play, and that the play wouldn’t be equivalent in all respects to the novel.”

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