2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” USA Network just aired a fully restored version of the movie that included an introduction by President Obama.
“50 years ago, a film came along that instantly captivated the nation,” said the president. “Based on the timeless novel by Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ brought to life an unforgettable tale of courage and conviction, of doing what was right no matter what the cost, and it gave us one of the great heroes of American cinema – Atticus Finch played so memorably by the late Gregory Peck.”
“Half a century later, the power of this extraordinary film endures,” the president continued. “It still speaks to us. It still tells us something about who we are as a people, and the common values that we all share. So I hope you enjoy the film, and if you haven’t already, I hope you get a chance to read the book. It’s an American classic, and it’s one of my family’s favorites.”
The movie indeed captivated me, and the novel changed my life.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view,” says Harper Lee through Atticus, “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
How much have I learned as a teacher and a writer by thinking about every person I meet with that consideration?
In a rare public statement from her home in Monroeville, Ala., Harper Lee said she was “deeply honored” by the president’s introduction.
“I believe it remains the best translation of a book to film ever made,” she said, “and I’m proud to know that Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch lives on – in a world that needs him now more than ever.”
Monroeville is a quintessential small, Southern town with a population of around 7,000. This is the town into which Harper Lee was born and in which she still resides. She lives with her 100-year-old sister, who is one of the most sought after attorneys in the region.
You can often find them puttering around the First United Methodist Church, where they are lifelong members. They maintain an apartment in New York City, the place where Lee journeyed to write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but spend most of their time in their hometown.
According to one study, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is behind only the Bible as the book that has made a difference in Americans’ lives. It has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, the movie was Oscar-nominated in 1962 (Gregory Peck won the Oscar for best actor and Horton Foote won for best adapted screenplay), and there are people who give their lives traveling from place to place acting the part of Atticus Finch.
I am even friends with Atticus Finch on Facebook.
With all of the critical and commercial success that came to her, why did Harper Lee write only one novel? I wonder.
Perhaps she was able to say all that she hoped to say to the world through the eyes and heart of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.
What do we hope to say to the world, and how are we saying it? Are we writing it, painting it, sculpting it, being it or doing it? Who will be our Atticus Finches today? Thank you, Nelle Harper Lee, for showing us a way.
A fourth grade public school teacher and member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.