The upcoming Broadway adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” — with a buzzy creative team that includes writer Aaron Sorkin and star Jeff Daniels — has been hit with a lawsuit by the estate of Harper Lee, the late writer who penned the 1960 novel.
The suit, filed in federal court in Alabama on Tuesday, centers on what the estate sees as the stage adaptation’s deviations from the source material, particularly in depicting the attitudes of Atticus Finch, one of the story’s main characters. In Sorkin’s version — in which Daniels will play Finch in a staging produced by Scott Rudin and Lincoln Center Theater — the character’s views about race shift over the course of the story, whereas the novel portrays him from the beginning as a crusader against racism.
“Atticus Finch is portrayed in the novel as a model of wisdom, integrity, and professionalism,” the lawsuit said. Lee’s estate contends that any shift from that departs from the spirit of the novel, to which the stage producers had agreed to be faithful.
In a statement, Rudin responded, “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 added, “While we hope this gets resolved, if it does not, the suit will be vigorously defended.”
Attorney Matthew H. Lembke, who filed the suit on behalf of the estate, declined to comment.
The Broadway production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the most widely anticipated of the fall, thanks to its high-profile title, its cast (including Celia Keenan-Bolger and Will Pullen), and a creative team that also includes Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher. The show is scheduled to begin previews on Nov. 1 prior to a Dec. 13 opening.