March 15, 2018 / 12:04 AM / 2 years ago

Harper Lee estate sues Broadway's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' play

(Reuters) - The estate of “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee has sued the producer of an upcoming Broadway adaptation, arguing that writer Aaron Sorkin’s script deviates too much from the beloved novel about race relations in the Depression-era U.S. South.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007, file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday in federal court in Alabama asks a judge to resolve a contract dispute with producer Scott Rudin by giving the estate final say on whether Sorkin’s script departs from the spirit of the 1960 novel or alters its characters.

The estate’s representative, Tonja B. Carter, alleges that the script alters several characters, including protagonist Atticus Finch, who is portrayed as being initially naive to racism. The script also “did not present a fair depiction of 1930s small-town Alabama” by tying it to today’s social climate, according to the suit.

Carter said Sorkin, an Oscar winner and the creator of Emmy-winning TV series including the political drama “The West Wing,” added two characters to the script and told trade magazine Playbill that the book as written “doesn’t work at all” as a play.

The play is set to open in preview on Nov. 1 in New York and stars Jeff Daniels as Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man against a false rape charge in the racially charged 1930s South.

Representatives for Rudin and Sorkin did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The suit alleges Rudin ignored and resisted Carter, and that a February draft of the play “exacerbated her concerns,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama.

In response, an attorney for Rudin’s company, Rudinplay Inc, said in a letter to the estate that the company and not the estate had final say over the script, according to the lawsuit.

Rudin is a major Broadway and Hollywood producer, having won an Oscar and multiple Tony Awards, often earning honors for revivals of mid-century American theater.

Lee died in 2016 at age 89.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was met with high praise on its publication, winning the Pulitzer Prize and earning Gregory Peck an Academy Award for best actor in the acclaimed 1962 screen adaptation.

In Lee’s only other novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” published in 2015 but written before “Mockingbird,” Finch is depicted as a bigot and racist who opposed desegregation efforts in the United States.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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