'Mockingbird' Film's "Scout" on 'Watchman' Race Controversy: "Put Your Mindset in That Time"

"When you read the book, you'll get it," Mary Badham explained Tuesday at a Q&A in New York City.
Mary Badham reads from 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Go Set a Watchman' on Tuesday

Mary Badham, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing Scout in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, is weighing in on the controversy surrounding author Harper Lee's latest novel Go Set a Watchman

Badham, who read from Mockingbird and Watchman at a Tuesday event at New York City's 92nd Street Y in honor of Watchman's release, told Harper Lee: American Masters director Mary Murphy that the passages in the new book that reveal Atticus Finch to be racist are a product of the era in which they were written. 

"What you have to do is you have to put your mindset in that time period, and you have to understand what we lived through," Badham said. 

"When you read the book, you'll get it," she continued. "There is so much much more to [the storyline than just a few lines]."

Badham believes that Watchman, which Lee wrote and then set aside almost 60 years ago, deserves to be taught in schools, just as Mockingbird is, "especially now with what we've got going on in this country [regarding race tensions]." She added: "The root of all evil is ignorance. Education is the key to freedom."

When asked whether she has kept in touch with Lee since the film, Badham said she was in Mississippi years later and went to Lee's home to visit the famously reclusive author. But Badham admitted that she "chickened out" at the last minute and decided not to knock on Lee's door. 

However, a later trip to visit Lee in the nursing home was more successful. "She [told me], 'Young lady, don't you ever come by here and don't say hey to me,' " Badham said. "Ever since then, everything's been fine." 

"Thank God for Ms. Harper Lee — I think she's wonderful," Badham added. 

Badham, who remembers that she wasn't told much information about the film's plot back when she was filming the role as a young girl, also shared fond memories of working with Gregory Peck (Atticus), whom she referred to as a father figure, since her parents died when she was a young age.

"Gregory Peck was truly Atticus," the actress said. "What we got at home was what you see up on the screen. He didn't ever preach at [me and the other child actors] — he talked with us, not to us. He always made us feel loved and appreciated." 

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@THR.com
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski

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