The federal lawsuit was filed in Alabama this week by the late author’s lawyer Tonja Carter against the theater company of New York producer Scott Rudin. It alleges screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrongly altered Atticus Finch and other characters from the book in the script, despite a clause in the contract stipulating that “the play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the novel nor alter its characters.”
The lawsuit states Atticus is “based on Ms Lee’s own father, a small-town Alabama lawyer who represented black defendants in a criminal trial”, and “is portrayed in the novel as a model of wisdom, integrity, and professionalism,” noting any shift from that, departs from the spirit of the novel, thus the suit asks a judge to enforce that portion of the contract.
A firm that represents Rudin’s company said Sorkin’s script “is a faithful adaptation of a singular novel which has been crafted well within the constraints of the agreement executed by both Harper Lee and the play’s producers before Ms. Lee’s death. 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.”
The statement continued calling out the estate lawyer’s history litigious behavior.
“The estate has an unfortunate history of litigious behavior and of both filing and being the recipient of numerous lawsuits, and has been the subject of considerable controversy surrounding its handling of the work of Harper Lee both during her illness and after her death. This is, unfortunately, simply another such lawsuit, the latest of many, and we believe that it is without merit. While we hope this gets resolved, if it does not, the suit will be vigorously defended,” the statement added.
The play is set to open December 13.