Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird" (2011)

If you have never read “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee then skip this film. It will not be as meaningful if you have not read the book which spawned this wonderful documentary look behind one of the most powerful books ever filmed, and the remarkable woman who penned it.

Through archival footage of New York City in the late 1950”s, and also photos of the small Alabama town where Ms. Harper grew up, the film tells the story of how the book came to be written, and the two remarkable people who made it possible.

It was Christmastime 1956 when Ms. Lee arrived in New York City to visit her friends Joy and Michael Brown. She had been working as an airline reservation clerk and writing sketches of the people she knew back home. These sketches tremendously impressed both Joy and Michael who were fellow transplants form the South. Believing in the integrity of her work they proposed to her that she should remain in New York with them for one year in order to write the book they knew she had within her. That was their Christmas present to her. She accepted the offer and “Atticus” was born.

The initial printing was 5,000 copies, which scared everyone except the publisher. By 1960 the book was released and the awards began to flow in. The book garnered the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was made into the classic film starring Gregory Peck in 1962. The film, just as the book, was an instant hit and is considered one of the finest contemporary American classics ever written.

With commentary about the book from such luminaries as Andrew Young, Richard Russo, Roseanne Cash and Oprah Winfrey, the film tells of the impact this book had on the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of the people who lived through the Jim Crow years down South. When she wrote the book, Ms. Lee had no idea of the impact, and change, that her book would engender.

Sometimes, when explored through the eyes of a child, the image of what we see around us becomes clearer. That is what happened with “To Kill a Mockingbird”. When the nation looked at the plight of Tom Robinson, and then walked around in his skin; as Atticus would say; it became harder and harder to look in the mirror. Though Ms. Lee never wrote another book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” will stand the test of time for the gem that it is.

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