The contentious legal fight over a planned Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” took another dramatic turn Monday. The play’s producers countersued Lee’s estate, asking a judge to let the adaptation, which originally had gotten an OK from the author, proceed.
Lee’s estate, represented by attorney Tonja B. Carter, sued the play’s producers in March, claiming that the script, written by Aaron Sorkin, was not faithful enough to Lee’s famous novel. Lee, who died in 2016 at age 89, published “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960. It has sold more than 40 million copies and was adapted into a film in 1962, winning three Academy Awards.
The Guardian reports this week that Rudinplay, producer Scott Rudin’s company, sued Lee’s estate for $10 million and is seeking to have the estate’s original suit against the production company dismissed.
In seeking to block the adaptation, Lee’s estate objected to the script, claiming that it added two new characters and “did not present a fair depiction of 1930s small-town Alabama.”
Lee signed off on a stage adaptation of her novel before she died. The producers of the play claim that Lee did not have approval rights over the play’s script, and maintain that the agreement “certainly did not give such rights to Ms. Carter, who is not an author, editor, literary agent or critic, and has no known expertise whatsoever in theatre or writing.”
The New York Times reports that Rudin offered to stage the play in front of the federal judge hearing the case to prove that it doesn’t deviate too wildly from Lee’s novel.
“A play and a book are two different things,” Rudin told the newspaper. “A book is meant to be read; a play is meant to be performed.”
Carter responded to the countersuit in a statement, saying, “As the personal representative of the Estate of Nelle Harper Lee, I must protect the integrity of her beloved American classic, and therefore had no choice but to file a lawsuit against Rudinplay for failing to honor its contract with Ms. Lee.”
Rudin’s countersuit seeks $10 million in damages from the estate, claiming that the estate’s lawsuit has made it difficult for the play to attract investors, who “are not willing to invest millions of dollars when a cloud exists.”
The Broadway adaptation of “Mockingbird” was first announced in 2016. At the time, Sorkin noted that the play would have scenes and dialogue that didn’t appear in the novel.
In February, the producers of the play announced that the lead role of Atticus Finch would be played by Jeff Daniels, who had worked with Sorkin on the television show “The Newsroom.”
The legal wrangling over the adaptation has threatened the future of the play, Rudin claimed, saying it is now “impossible” for the play to open in December, as was originally planned. "[U]nless this dispute is resolved in the immediate future, the play will be canceled,” Rudin said in the lawsuit.