EXCLUSIVE: A24 has acquired worldwide rights to Native Son, an adaptation of the Richard Wright novel. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks has written the script and celebrated conceptual artist Rashid Johnson will direct the film, which will take place in the present day in Johnson’s hometown of Chicago. Ashton Sanders in final negotiations to take on the iconic role of Bigger Thomas and Margaret Qualley (Novitiate, The Nice Guys), Nick Robinson (Love, Simon, Jurassic World), KiKi Layne (Barry Jenkins’ upcoming If Beale Street Could Talk) and Bill Camp (The Night Of) are also set. Matthew Libatique (Black Swan, Straight Outta Compton) will be the director of photography.

Suzan-Lori Parks Rashid Johnson
Parks and Johnson
REX/Shutterstock

The film was developed and will be produced by Bow and Arrow Entertainment’s Matthew Pernicaro and Michael Sherman, coming off of Skate Kitchen and Madeline’s Madeline, which both just premiered at Sundance. Production begins April 9.

Johnson began his career as a photographer and has since worked across media to explore ideas about African American identity. His art has been recognized and showcased around the world, taking a major touring exhibition across the U.S. as well as recent solo exhibitions at reputable museums including Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, High Line Art in New York, and South London Gallery. In 2016, he was appointed to the board of trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Museum, the first artist to be given the honor in nearly 40 years. This will be the first feature film directed by Johnson.

The deal by A24 comes as the company’s appetite is growing after having three films in the awards-season mix with Best Picture Oscar nominee Lady Bird, The Florida Project and The Disaster Artist, and winning the Oscar Best Picture with Moonlight the year before.

Native Son joins a slate that includes Robert Eggers’ The Witch follow-up The Lighthouse, and the company’s first spec deal Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, a script from Cat Person author Kristen Ropuenian. Both are in the horror genre.

Native Son

“A24 is active with some of the best filmmakers and films today,” he said. “We’re excited to have a partner that shares our enthusiasm for this amazing and deeply complicated material. We look forward to working with them to bring Richard Wright’s powerful story to life.”

UTA Independent Film Group negotiated the Native Son deal on behalf of the filmmakers.

Johnson is represented by UTA and Ziffren Brittenham. Parks is represented by UTA and Schreck Rose & Dapello. Bow and Arrow is represented by Levin Law Corp. Sanders, who just wrapped Equalizer 2 and stars in Captive State for Focus, is repped by Hyperion and The Savage Agency, and is managed by ESI Network. Robinson is with UTA, Management 360 and The Savage Agency.

Bow and Arrow’s recent films include and Sundance 2017 entries Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours, Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits and Dustin Guy Defa’s Person To Person. The company will next produce Perry’s Her Smell, starring Elisabeth Moss.