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A ‘Native Son’ Reimagined, With James Baldwin in Mind | The New York Times

A ‘Native Son’ Reimagined, With James Baldwin in Mind | The New York Times

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In its earliest conception, Richard Wright’s best-seller “Native Son” was envisioned for the screen.

“To make the screen version of a novel into which I had put so much of myself was a dream which I had long hugged to my heart,” Richard Wright told the Portuguese magazine “Revista Branca” in 1950.

The story of a young African-American man from the South Side of Chicago, trapped by the stigma and the stifling conditions of racism, has in fact lent itself to film dramatization more than once. A 1951 feature, starring a 45-year-old Wright after the actor Canada Lee dropped out, was a commercial and critical disaster — it didn’t help that the film, made in Argentina, was extensively edited by American censors. A 1986 version made by Jerrold Freedman and starring Elizabeth McGovern, Oprah Winfrey, Ving Rhames and Matt Dillon did not fare any better.

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But it was Wright’s words on the page, and not its cinematic offspring, that inspired the visual artist Rashid Johnson to make his own “Native Son” adaptation — his feature directorial debut — premiering Saturday on HBO.


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