March 15 (UPI) -- The estate of late author Harper Lee filed a lawsuit this week against producer Scott Rudin for a planned Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird that veers too far from the original novel.
Before her death in 2016, Lee agreed to a contract with Rudin's Broadway company, Rudinplay, to produce a staged version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the condition that "the Play shall not derogate or depart in any manner from the spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters," according to the lawsuit.
One of those conditions was that the characters be represented according to the book, especially the main protagonist, Atticus Finch.
Screenwriter and director Aaron Sorkin was chosen to write the play --- a decision Lee agreed to before her death. But the lawsuit cites an interview Sorkin gave to Vulture last year in which he describes how he plans to change Finch's character.
"As far as Atticus and his virtue goes, this is a different take on Mockingbird than Harper Lee's or Horton Foote's," Sorkin told the magazine. "He becomes Atticus Finch by the end of the play, and while he's going along, he has a kind of running argument with Calpurnia, the housekeeper, which is a much bigger role in the play I just wrote. He is in denial about his seven neighbors, and his friends and the world around him, that is as racist as it is, that a Maycomb County jury could possibly put Tom Robinson in jail when it's so obvious what happened here. He becomes an apologist for these people."
The lawsuit quotes another part of the Vulture piece that states, "That adjustment not only gives Atticus a character journey from naivete to righteousness, it ties the 1930s-set Mockingbird to today's social climate."
After reading Sorkin's interview, Tonja Carter, the representative of the estate, reached out to Rudin, who assuaged her concerns by saying the script is only in its draft stage and that the final version would be an accurate portrayal of the book, as agreed to.
But when Carter read the latest version in September 2017, it only "exacerbated her concerns."
Carter contacted Rudin again, who responded through attorneys that the contract allows some changes to be made and Lee's estate "is therefore not the final arbiter of what 'derogates or departs from the spirit of the Novel, or alters its characters.'"
In a statement to Variety, Rudin said he will "vigorously" defend his and Sorkin's version of the play.
"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," Rudin said.