Nelle Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) hit just about every mark of critical and popular success: it won the Pulitzer Prize; It has sold more than 30 million copies; and it spawned a film version that earned Gregory Peck (pictured with Lee) an Oscar. It's also one of the most notable American 20th century books about racism by a white author.
Several years after its publication, Lee stopped talking to the press and has remained a very private figure. Though it breaks no new ground on several issues commonly associated with Lee and the novel, Mary Murphy's documentary Hey, Boo triangulates a profile of Lee by exploring some of those issues. Lee's voice is heard only in snippets from a 1964 radio interview. Murphy revisits the similarities between Lee's childhood in a small town in Alabama and the book's setting and characters. She rehashes the rumors that Lee's longtime friend Truman Capote wrote or edited it. On several of these topics, the film's most charming presence is Lee's older sister Alice, who was 99 years old and a practicing lawyer when Hey, Boo was filmed.
The documentary also features interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, Rick Bragg, Andrew Young and several prominent novelists about the book's impact on them.
Mockingbird is still a fixture in classrooms and it captures issues of prejudice in a timeless fashion, but it was released as the Civil Rights movement was gaining steam and resistance was becoming more violent. The film explores how Lee came to write the book, the device of viewing the conflict through a child's eyes and its unforeseen immediate popularity. The publisher printed 5,000 copies on the first run and wasn't sure it would sell all of them.
Named for the novel's odd recluse Boo Radley, the documentary is a compelling exploration of some of those enigmatic issues. Tickets $7 general admission, $6 students/seniors, $5 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
7:30 p.m. Thu.-Fri.
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net