Producer Scott Rudin has fired back at the estate of author Harper Lee, charging in a lawsuit filed yesterday that a lawsuit filed last month by estate executor Tonja B. Carter could shoot down a much anticipated Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Yesterday’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by Rudin’s production company Rudinplay, demands $10 million from Lee’s estate, claiming that investors “are not willing to invest millions of dollars when a cloud exists” over the Aaron Sorkin-penned stage adaptation.
The battle began last month when Carter, representing the Lee estate, filed suit in Alabama claiming that the planned Bartlett Sher-directed Broadway production, which is to star Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch, is not faithful to Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel.
Specifically, Carter objected to what she interpreted, from reading a script draft, as the depiction of Mockingbird protagonist Atticus Finch as an apologist for the racism of the tale’s Depression-era South. Finch, as memorably played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film version, has long been viewed by readers and viewers as the epitome of racial tolerance and understanding, a humanist icon.
Ironically, that heroic depiction was first amended in the public eye by Carter’s controversial decision to publish Go Set a Watchman, the late Lee’s early Mockingbird draft that saw light in 2015, its portrayal of Atticus as an apologist for racial segregation a startling contrast to the hero who would emerge in Mockingbird.
Rudin now says the estate’s efforts to “assert control over the script had already damaged the process, making it difficult to secure the money needed to finance the production,” and that he might be forced to cancel what would most certainly be among next season’s major Broadway events.
In addition to the $10 million suit, Rudinplay has filed a motion to dismiss the Lee Estate’s Alabama action.
“Ms. Carter’s conduct, in falsely alleging that the script for the play violates the Agreement, has rendered it impossible for the play to premiere as scheduled in December, 2018,” the suit charges, “and unless this dispute is resolved in the immediate future, the play will be canceled.”
Cancellation, Rudin’s suit says, “is precisely what Ms. Carter hopes to achieve, as she wishes for the play to be canceled for ulterior purposes—including to avoid potential liabilities on the part of Ms. Lee’s estate resulting from a dispute with third parties concerning ownership of the live stage rights that Ms. Lee had assigned to Rudinplay.” The Lee Estate is involved in a separate dispute over stage rights with the heirs of Gregory Peck.
Rudin told The New York Times he’d even be willing to stage a one-off performance of Sorkin’s adaptation inside a federal courthouse so a judge could see that the play is in fact faithful to the novel. (Deadline has reached out to Rudin for comment.)
Carter released a statement to The Times Monday 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. It is my duty and privilege to defend the terms of Ms. Lee’s agreement with Rudinplay, and I am determined to do so.”