Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the Great American Novel To Kill a Mockingbird appears headed to court before it can head to Broadway. A New York judge has set a June 4 trial date for the legal dispute in which author Harper Lee’s estate claims the lauded writer’s new production strays too far from the source book, though the producers promised it wouldn’t.
The lawsuit, according to The New York Times, came after Lee estate executor Tonja B. Carter saw a draft of the script, which seemingly portrays protagonist Atticus Finch as an apologist for the racial status quo rather than the ever-wise, benevolent lawyer depicted in the book. The suit, filed in Alabama, says the agreement signed by Lee in 2015 — eight months before her death at age 89 — called for the adaptation to “remain faithful to the spirit of the book,” according to the paper.
That legal action didn’t sit well with the play’s producer Scott Rudin, who filed a $10 million countersuit two weeks ago seeking dismissal of the Alabama suit, claiming that it could shoot down the much-anticipated Main Stem adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. It claims that investors “are not willing to invest millions of dollars when a cloud exists” over the Aaron Sorkin-penned stage adaptation and says the only way to avoid a devastating financial debacle would be to settle the dispute quickly.
Judge Analisa Torres of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled Monday that if the Alabama judge allows that suit to go forward, that’s where the dispute should be settled. After her decision, the sides met with a magistrate judge to discuss whether a performance of the new adaptation might be used to help resolve the matter. One possibility discussed would see the show videotaped ahead of a live performance in court.
The planned Bartlett Sher-directed Broadway production is set to star Jeff Daniels — who won an Emmy for playing the lead in Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom — as Atticus Finch.