Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend Jamie Foxx Will Play Little John to Taron Egerton's Robin Hood in "Progressive" Take on the Legend James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral James Franco Will Direct Film Based on Aziah "Zola" Wells' 148-Tweet Narrative That Went Viral Is Idris Elba a Hollywood Leading Man Yet? Is Idris Elba a Hollywood Leading Man Yet? Regarding 'Song of the South' – The Film That Disney Doesn’t Want You to See Regarding 'Song of the South' – The Film That Disney Doesn’t Want You to See Watch Mekhi Phifer in Trailer for "First-Person Shooter" Zombie Thriller, 'Pandemic' Watch Mekhi Phifer in Trailer for "First-Person Shooter" Zombie Thriller, 'Pandemic' 2016 SXSW Feature Films Lineup Announced - Several World Premieres of Note 2016 SXSW Feature Films Lineup Announced - Several World Premieres of Note HBO Sets April Premiere Date for 'Confirmation' HBO Sets April Premiere Date for 'Confirmation' Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Watch the Electrifying First Trailer for Don Cheadle's 'Miles Ahead' Watch: Tyler Perry Previews 'The Passion' 2-Hour Musical Event in New Orleans Watch: Tyler Perry Previews 'The Passion' 2-Hour Musical Event in New Orleans Before Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film Is Released, Get Prepped By Watching Charles Burnett's 2003 Documentary Before Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film Is Released, Get Prepped By Watching Charles Burnett's 2003 Documentary Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit Watch Episode 1 of PBS' New Civil War-Set Drama Series 'Mercy Street' + On-Set Visit Watch: OWN Previews New Primetime Series 'It's Not You, It's Men' (Tyrese Gibson & Rev Run Host) Watch: OWN Previews New Primetime Series 'It's Not You, It's Men' (Tyrese Gibson & Rev Run Host) LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' LeToya Luckett, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Andra Fuller Star in New TV One Comedy Series 'Here We Go Again' First Look at Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film, 'The Birth of a Nation' First Look at Nate Parker's Nat Turner Film, 'The Birth of a Nation' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' TV One Aims to Change the Reality Genre with New Series, 'The Next 15' Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton Is Heading to TV Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Why Was Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv) Really Replaced on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'? Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder Finally Explains Why He Left 'The Boondocks' Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Netflix Explains Why It Doesn't Always Have That Film Or TV Show You Really Want To See (Video) Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie... Tichina Arnold Says She Talked To Martin Lawrence About Doing A 'Martin' Movie...

"Native Son" - A Really Lousy Film You Must See

Shadow and Act By Sergio | Shadow and Act June 18, 2011 at 5:02AM

Richard Wright's seminal novel Native Son, first published in 1940, is one of the most important books ever written about racism and the black experience in America.
4

Richard Wright's seminal novel Native Son, first published in 1940, is one of the most important books ever written about racism and the black experience in America.

It also has been extremely unlucky in the movies. There have been two film versions and both of them pretty lousy. There was the 1986 version made for PBS which did get a brief theatrical run with Victor Love as the lead troubled character Bigger Thomas, and Oprah Winfrey, in one of her very first film roles, as his downtrodden suffering mother ("My baby! My baby! Please suh my baby ain't meant no harm!"...or lines to that effect).

But the earlier 1951 film version directed by French director Pierre Chanel is the one that needs to be seen to be believed.

Though the novel is set in Chicago, and obviously well aware that it would be impossible to shoot the film there (with the exception of some travelogue footage not shot by the filmmakers that opens the film), as well as to raise the money to make it, the film was completely shot in and around Buenos Aires, Argentina.

However that wouldn't have been a problem so much, if it wasn't for the fact that Wright himself played the lead role of Bigger Thomas. No doubt this was a problem for a couple of reasons. At the time Wright was in his early 40's (though he looked even older) and literally more then twice the age of Thomas in his novel, who is 20.

Even worse... well to put it simply, Wright is AWFUL as an actor. He couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. As proof, below is a film clip of Wright's screen test which speaks for itself. It's amazing that they thought he was convincing enough to play Thomas. But then the filmmakers probably thought having Wright (who was by then an internationally known acclaimed writer and activist) play the lead role would be a selling point.

But the film is a disaster, though a fascinating one, nevertheless. Sort of like a car accident you can't bare to watch, but you can't turn your eyes away from. No doubt it's a sincere effort, but the clumsy, heavy-handed approach (granted it's a heavy-handed book), and Wright's amateurish performance, sink the whole endeavor like a stone. And wait until you take a gander of the "happy times down South" flashback sequence for which there are no words adequate enough to describe.

The film had an unfortunate life after it was made. It was cut from its original 120 minute length to just under 90 minutes, and has never been restored to it's original version. No doubt the missing scenes are long gone and most likely destroyed or thrown away (though reportedly there's a 105 minute version in existence though no one has ever seen it to my knowledge). And it was, not surprisingly, barely released in the U.S.

It is in the public domain now which means you can probably find it on DVD, or a crummy scratched up print of the film somewhere, and it's sometime shown on TV, usually on local PBS stations during Black History Month. But it's worth watching anyway to see a rare example of forgotten black film history. Just don't expect a masterpiece. Scale down your expectations... way down.

The opening of the film:

Richard Wright's screen test:

This article is related to: Did You Know?


Shadow & ActNewsletter