July 15, 2015 / 3:34 PM / 2 years ago

'Mockingbird' actress hopes 'Watchman' will become classroom classic

Copies of Harper Lee's book "Go Set a Watchman" are displayed on a table inside of a Barnes & Noble store in New York, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The actress who brought Scout Finch to life in an Oscar-winning movie more than 50 years ago hopes Harper Lee’s controversial new novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” will become a staple in literature classes, just as its beloved predecessor did.

Mary Badham, who was 10 when she played Scout in the 1962 movie adaptation of Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird,” told a packed audience at a Manhattan reading on Tuesday that she thinks readers will learn a lot from the new book.

Asked whether she thinks “Watchman” will be taught in schools, Badham said, “I certainly hope so.”

She then recited the words she often asks students to repeat back to her when she visits schools: “Ignorance is the root of all evil, and education is the key to freedom.”

Written before “Mockingbird,” “Watchman” is set 20 years later, in the 1950s. It depicts lawyer Atticus Finch, seen as a symbol of tolerance in the face of Southern racism in “Mockingbird”, as a bigot who opposes desegregation and has attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting.

“I think it’s so timely for right now. ‘Mockingbird’ came at a perfect time for our country. It allowed us the ability to discuss subjects rationally and intelligently without getting way up here,” said Badham, 62, motioning above her head. “And now that things are way up here with our country, I think this will help a lot.”

The novel, published on Tuesday, went on sale a month after a gunman, identified by authorities as a 21-year-old white man, killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting set off an impassioned national debate over modern use of the Confederate battle flag, which has historically been associated with slavery.

Badham, who was speaking at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, said there is more to Atticus than the racial epithets he utters in the new novel. “Watchman” carries a message that discourages ignorance, she said.

“You have to put your mindset in that time period, and you have to understand what we lived through,” she said. “When you read the book, you’ll get it.”

Badham, who appeared in only a handful of films after “Mockingbird,” said the movie allowed her to experience a world beyond Birmingham, Alabama, where she grew up.

“It has all of life’s lessons condensed into one little, simple book,” she said. “It’s impacted my life in a growth process to accept the world and be tolerant of people and other ways of thinking and other ways of doing things.”

Reporting by Katie Reilly; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Mohammad Zargham

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