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Harper Lee estate sues over Mockingbird Broadway version

The estate of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee has filed suit over an upcoming Broadway adaptation of the novel, arguing that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s script wrongly alters Atticus Finch and other characters from the book.

The suit, which includes a copy of a contract signed by Lee and dated about eight months before her death in February 2016, contends Sorkin’s script violates the agreement by portraying Finch, the noble lawyer who represents a black man wrongly accused of rape in Mockingbird, as someone else in the play.

Filed against the theatre company of New York producer Scott Rudin, the complaint cites an interview with the online publication Vulture in which Sorkin was quoted as saying the small-town lawyer would evolve from a racist apologist at the start of the show to become “Atticus Finch by the end of the play”.

Such a change during a play could fit with the character evolution shown between the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mockingbird and Lee’s first draft of the novel, finally released in 2015 as Go Set A Watchman.

But the lawsuit contends the script would violate the contact by changing Finch and other characters and adding still more people who aren’t in the novel. It asks a judge to enforce a section of the agreement that states the play will not “depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters”.

Mockingbird Play Lawsuit
Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird (Rob Carr/AP)

A firm that represents Mr Rudin’s company, Rudinplay Inc, said Sorkin’s script “is a faithful adaptation of a singular novel which has been crafted well within the constraints of the signed agreement” between the producers and Lee.

The statement also took a jab at the “history of litigious behaviour” of Lee’s estate, overseen by lawyer Tonja Carter of Lee’s south Alabama hometown of Monroeville.

“This is, unfortunately, simply another such lawsuit, the latest of many, and we believe that it is without merit,” said the statement. “While we hope this gets resolved, if it does not, the suit will be vigorously defended.”

The suit names as its plaintiff Ms Carter, who represented Lee during the final years of the author’s life. Ms Carter handled Lee’s will and is listed in the lawsuit as the personal representative of Lee’s estate.

Rudinplay paid Lee 100,000 US dollars (£71,500) after she approved Sorkin as the screenwriter in November 2015, the suit said. Ms Carter first saw a draft of the play in September, according to the lawsuit, and she later spoke with MrRudin by phone to express numerous concerns about Sorkin’s script.

“Mr Rudin assured Ms Carter that he wanted to do the Play right and that he would make sure that the Estate would be satisfied with the final product,” the suit said.

The two talked again in February about the script, the suit said, adding: “At times, the conversation was heated.” Ms Carter sued after Mr Rudin’s lawyer wrote earlier this month saying extensive changes to the script were not possible, the suit said.

Sorkin has won multiple Emmys for his work on the drama series The West Wing, and he won an Academy Award for his screenplay of The Social Network in 2011.

Mr Rudin’s credits include Lady Bird, which was nominated for an Academy Award as best motion picture this year, and Fences, which was a 2017 nominee. He won a best picture Oscar for No Country for Old Men in 2008.

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