The first year we sponsored the Law in Film festival, we had to feature "To Kill a Mockingbird." As Mark Murakami wrote in his review of the film, "[s]tanding alone against a lynch mob armed only with words and his abiding morality, Atticus represents what author Scott Turow calls the 'paragon' of lawyer morality: a champion willing to make a stand even if his client, as an African-American accused of raping a white woman, is the most reviled man in their rural Deep South community."
The book is loved equally, if not more than the film.
Well, get ready. The New York Times reports in its review of "Go Set a Watchman," Harper Lee's soon-to-be-published sort-of sequel to TKAM, that we may have to reconsider our view of Atticus:We remember Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s 1960 classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as that novel’s moral conscience: kind, wise, honorable, an avatar of integrity who used his gifts as a lawyer to defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town filled with prejudice and hatred in the 1930s. As indelibly played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie, he was the perfect man — the ideal father and a principled idealist, an enlightened, almost saintly believer in justice and fairness. In real life, people named their children after Atticus. People went to law school and became lawyers because of Atticus.
Shockingly, in Ms. Lee’s long-awaited novel “Go Set a Watchman” (due out Tuesday), Atticus is a racist who once attended a Klan meeting, who says things like “the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” Or asks his daughter: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”
In “Mockingbird,” a book once described by Oprah Winfrey as “our national novel,” Atticus praised American courts as “the great levelers,” dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” In “Watchman,” set in the 1950s in the era of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, he denounces the Supreme Court, says he wants his home state “to be left alone to keep house without advice from the NAACP” and describes N.A.A.C.P.-paid lawyers as “standing around like buzzards.”
In “Mockingbird,” Atticus was a role model for his children, Scout and Jem — their North Star, their hero, the most potent moral force in their lives. In “Watchman,” he becomes the source of grievous pain and disillusionment for the 26-year-old Scout (or Jean Louise, as she’s now known).
Read the full review ("Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman' Gives Atticus Finch a Dark Side") here.