Suzan-Lori Parks Writing, Rashid Johnson Directing Richard Wright Novel ‘Native Son’

Stephanie Diani

UTA Independent will soon shop a movie adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, adapted by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks with artist/photographer Rashid Johnson making his feature directorial debut. Published in 1940, Native Son is a controversial portrayal of African Americans living in poverty on Chicago’s South Side and has a hard to like protagonist: Bigger Thomas, a 20 year-old black man who is a rapist and murderer who gave all of America a (some say exaggerated) view of the inner city ghettos. It’s about fear, violence, hatred and an environment that is hard, if not impossible, to escape from. It was an eye-opener for its Caucasian readers and became part of the high-school and college curriculum across the nation. The book was adapted for the stage many times, most famously a year after its publication by Orson Welles. It was turned into movies in 1951 and 1986.

The controversial book had its critics, especially in author James Baldwin who wrote Notes on Native Son and famously took on Wright’s portrayal of the black man as “unrealistic, unsympathetic and stereotypical.” Others, like Irving Howe in his 1963 essay Black Boys and Native Sons, wrote: “The day Native Son appeared American culture was changed forever … Richard Wright’s novel brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear, and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture.”

Bow and Arrow’s Matthew Perniciaro and Michael Sherman are producing. Parks was the first African-American woman to win the drama Pulitzer, for Topdog/Underdog.

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