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groovyjt Written by groovyjt
May. 11, 2011 | 5:45 PM

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Author Harper Lee hasn’t granted an interview to the press since 1964. Her book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” not only won the Pulitzer prize in 1960 and continues to be one of the most discussed books on racism, but, to this day, is her only published novel.  Mary McDonagh Murphy’s new documentary “Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’” gives us keen insight as to why that is, who Harper Lee is, and ultimately how relevant the book still is in today’s society.

The film itself provides a brief history of Lee; how she grew up in a small Alabama town and later moved to New York City to become an author. But more so, it covers the impact the book has had on many influential writers, politicians, educators, schoolchildren and media magnets like Oprah. Using a collection of photographs and interviews from people who know her, Murphy constructs an absorbing tale of how one of America’s most reclusive authors created one of the most beloved books that has spanned generations.

The film doesn’t explore Lee’s personal life as much as one would like, mainly because the filmmakers never get an exclusive interview from her. If they had, this expose really would have been something truly special.  However, it does contain a very candid interview with her older sister and she backs up the common knowledge that even her close childhood friend Truman Capote has echoed: That Harper Lee is really more like the withdrawn character of Boo in her novel than the young protagonist, Scout. Her sister even states that she just “wanted to be left alone,” and that a writer like Lee did not need to be seen and create publicity for themselves, in the way that an actor might.

All in all, everyone interviewed agrees that the book still resonates now as much as it did when it was published in 1960, mostly because of the autobiographical nature of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The fact that the book comes deep from the heart of Lee and is set deep in the heart of The South—where racism was and is still weaved into the very fabric of the community—is the reason it still resonates so loudly and so full of life. The book has really become more beloved over time, as evident by Lee receiving the President Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature in 2007—nearly fifty years after its first publication.

It’s very rare in this day and age that a film reminds us how important novels are to a society, and how they can become a part of our ledger of life. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one such novel, one that transcends generations, and the film “Hey, Boo” touchingly reminds us how special that is and in doing so, sheds much more light on Harper Lee’s life than ever before. 

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