Harper Lee’s estate has filed a lawsuit in Alabama over Aaron Sorkin’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” Broadway adaption, alleging the play’s script strays from “the spirit of the novel.”
Lee, who died in 2016 at age 89, wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel which was adapted into a successful movie that went on to win three Academy Awards.
Lee signed a contract with producer Scott Rudin about eight months before her death that gave him the rights to adapt her novel for $100,000 and a vow that the script would “remain true to the original story,” The Washington Post reported.
Rudin employed Sorkin, who is best known for writing “The Social Network” and “The West Wing,” to pen the script.
The Lee estate lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, alleged Rudin and Sorkin have adjusted the novel’s main characters, Atticus Finch and his children Scout and Jem. The lawsuit also alleged the script changed the novel’s legal proceedings against Tom Robinson, a black man who goes to trial after he is wrongly accused of raping a young white woman. The suit also argued the script “no longer presents a fair depiction of 1930s small-town Alabama.”
Carter first saw a draft of the play in September, according to the lawsuit, and she later spoke with Rudin by phone to express concerns about it. She spoke with Rudin in February about the script adding, “At times, the conversation was heated,” the lawsuit states.
Carter sued after Rudin's attorney responded earlier this month with a message stating extensive changes to the script weren't possible, the suit said.
Sorkin’s altered script violated the agreement between Lee and Rudin, the suit claims. It asks a judge to enforce a section of the agreement that reportedly states the play won't "depart in any manner from the spirit of the novel nor alter its characters."
Rudin replied to the lawsuit stating he “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. The world has changed since then,” Rudin told The New York Times.
The lawyers from Lee’s estates said they became suspicious of Sorkin and Rudin’s ideas for the script following an interview with Vulture.com in 2013 in which Sorkin hinted he would change the character evolution of Atticus Finch.
“He becomes Atticus Finch by the end of the play,” Sorkin said. 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.”
Lee’s estate contacted Rudin in September stating it was “really important” the characters in the script were not altered from the novel.
Rudin told The New York Times he believed the lawsuit was “without merit.”
“This is, unfortunately, simply another such lawsuit, the latest of many, and we believe that it is without merit,” Rudin said.
His statement also took a jab at the "history of litigious behavior" of Lee's estate, overseen by Carter.
The play is slated to begin previews on Nov. 1 and open on Dec. 13 on Broadway. Jeff Daniels is slated to star as Atticus Finch.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.