Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee is an American classic and quite possibly one of the most popular books used in the classroom. Filmmaker and author Mary McDonagh Murphy decided to honor her favorite book by shooting a documentary titled “Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird,” which she screened at the on April 25.
Library director Elizabeth Bermel gave a brief and impressive biographical introduction on Murphy before the author walked up to the podium and greeted many of the audience members by name - an intimidating accomplishment, considering the Scott Room was packed.
After announcing that proceeds from the night’s book sale would be donated to the Friends of the Scarsdale Library, the lights dimmed as audience members prepared to watch “the story of our nation.”
The documentary began with an audio recording of a radio interview with Harper Lee in March 1964, which enlightened us on the life of Harper Lee before and after the phenomenon of her one and only book.
Lee's manuscript, originally titled “Atticus,” came to be thanks to an extraordinary act of friendship from Joy and Michael Brown. In her early 20s, Lee was a struggling writer living in New York City when the Browns gave Lee money valued at a year's worth of her wages. Attached to the gift was a note stating, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” This was the time Lee needed to write her critically acclaimed bestseller.
The documentary also highlighted the novel's power and popularity. Interviews with Tom Brokaw, Wally Lamb, James Pattterson, Anna Quindlen, Oprah Winfrey and others examined how the story of Atticus Finch, a hero among men, impacted their lives.
“I remember starting it and just devouring it,” said Winfrey. “I wanted to be Scout. I thought I was Scout.”
“It is the reason I’m a writer,” added Childress.
Additionally, the documentary illustrated how "To Kill a Mockingbird' influenced and inspired education in the classrooms. "It teaches about judgement," said one interviewed student from Farragut Middle School in Hastings-on-Hudson.
“It showed how one person could change the whole world,” added another student fromHomewood Middle School in Alabama.
Following the screening, many audience members had questions for Murphy. Others, however, just wanted to express their own experience with "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Murphy remarked on the fact that Harper Lee had not given an interview in over 45 years. However, Murphy was able to interview some of Lee’s close acquaintances, and she sat down for hours with Lee’s sister, Alice, who is 99 and still practices law in their hometown in Monroeville, Alabama.
Murphy also briefly recounted the childhood friendship between Harper Lee and Truman Capote. The documentary goes into more details about their friendship and life as neighbors.
One audience member commented, “I’m going to go buy another copy. I haven’t read "To Kill a Mockingbird" in years. I want to read it as a more mature person.”
“My adult rereading of the novel made a much bigger impact on me than as an adolescent,” replied Murphy, who was was 35 at the time and a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University when she examined the book a second time. “I was completely blown away by the writing of the book. The writing is magnificent. It spoke to me mightily. It's incredible impact on lives became the story.”
Murphy closed the night by addressing "To Kill a Mockingbird's" timeless impact. “You can return to this book again and again. It’s not just a good read. It has more courtroom drama than Law and Order," said Murphy.
Mary Murphy’s documentary “Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird” premiers in theaters across America on May 13. PBS American Masters will air the documentary later this year.