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To Kill a Mockingbird Author’s Estate Sues to Stop Stage Adaptation

A stage version of the novel was optioned by the author months before she passed, but now the estate is alleging that producers have broken the contract, with too many changes from the original novel.

The first draft of a novel, that became an American classic, was completed in 1957 by a young woman originally from Alabama, based in part on her own life as the daughter of a local attorney.

The Hollywood Reporter’s recent article, “Let Aaron Sorkin’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Adaptation Move Forward,” explains that it was only later, when a gruff but motherly editor named Tay Hohoff had sent the writer back to the drawing board, that she re-thought her story and the lawyer himself—redeveloping him as the dignified Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lee’s reinvention of Finch would have remained a well-kept secret, if her attorney, Tonja Carter, hadn’t taken the controversial step of letting HarperCollins publish that early draft, titled Go Set a Watchman, a few months before its author’s death in February 2016. The book became a bestseller, despite the many questions as to whether Lee, a recluse who’d never published any other novel after Mockingbird came out in 1960, would have wanted it out there.

Now Carter and Lee’s estate are battling over whether to allow Aaron Sorkin to move ahead with his stage adaptation of the book.

The news that the Oscar-winning screenwriter behind The West Wing and The Social Network was creating a Broadway production made headlines when it was announced in February 2016. However, the play’s future is now in doubt. On March 14, Lee’s estate announced it was suing the production and producer on the grounds that they’d violated an agreement that “the Play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.” Sorkin wants the main characters, who are children, to be played by adults.

Many classics are reinterpreted by others, with screenplays that don’t always align with original works. Read by millions over six decades, it is likely that the original novel will continue to be enjoyed, regardless of any interpretations. However, the wishes of the estate are likely to prevail, as they legally should.

Reference: The Hollywood Reporter (March 19, 2018) “Let Aaron Sorkin’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Adaptation Move Forward”

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