I don’t watch many documentaries, probably for the same reason I no longer read much nonfiction. (Don’t know what the reason is, just figure it’s the same.) But I love To Kill a Mockingbird, the book and the movie, so when “Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird” came out on DVD I checked out a copy at the library and put it on one afternoon as I cleaned the house. I figured I’d just listen and watch a bit as I worked. Didn’t turn out that way—I sat down and watched every minute of this loving tribute to the book and the woman who wrote it.
Through recent interviews with friends, Harper Lee’s 99-year old sister (who still practices law!), photos, and archival interviews and essays from Harper Lee herself, we get glimpses of the woman behind the writer: her childhood, her friendships (including the
one with Truman Capote), her family, her warmth and humor, her retreat from the spotlight of fame. In the documentary, Oprah tells the story of trying to get Harper Lee to agree to an interview, but of course she didn’t—she hasn’t agreed to an interview since the 1960s. According to Oprah, she stopped asking when Harper Lee said that while
everyone always thought she was Scout, she was more like Boo Radley. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I’d never thought of that before—but it certainly explains why the author shied away from interviews and publicity after a few years of fame.
There’s newsreel footage of the Civil Rights movement and interviews with Civil Rights leaders and Monroeville residents to give us a historical perspective of the time when the novel was written and published, and a better understanding of the quiet strength this white southern woman had to write this book at that time. Harper Lee may see herself as Boo Radley, but seems to me she’s at least partly Atticus.
We also learn about Harper Lee the writer. A gift from friends helped her complete the
book; she had to work hard to revise her original manuscript to get it published. She started researching and writing another book, but eventually stopped. “Hey Boo” does a good job of looking at the hard work that goes into writing any book, something it’s easy
to forget as a reader enjoying the finished product.
Mostly, though, this documentary is about the wonderful story Harper Lee gave us. School kids talk about how the book affects them. Other writers explain what makes certain scenes work, how the words and sentences fit together to tell the story. The actress who played Scout talks about filming the movie, and scenes from the movie are scattered throughout to illustrate key events or themes in the book.
My favorite parts of the documentary are the times when those being interviewed, (including Oprah, Tom Brokaw, Lee Smith) read their favorite scenes from the novel. The words still have the power to move us, to make us laugh and cry and hope. “Hey Boo” gives us lots of great information and insight, but ultimately what it does best is remind us of the power of these words.
There really isn’t a lot of new information about Harper Lee in this documentary, no earth-shattering or headline-making revelations. But if you love To Kill a Mockingbird, or books, or the power of language and stories, then you’ll enjoy “Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird.” Just don’t plan to do housework while watching.