In Brief

Rashid Johnson’s Native Son Adaptation Acquired by HBO Ahead of Sundance Premiere

This adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son is the visual artist’s first feature film.

Ashton Sanders appears in Native Son by Rashid Johnson, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival (image courtesy Sundance Institute | photo by Matthew Libatique)

Visual artist Rashid Johnson’s first foray into feature film, an adaptation of Richard Wright’s famous 1940 novel Native Son, was acquired by HBO ahead of its January 24 premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The film, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Park, originally entered the festival with intent for theatrical distribution by independent entertainment company A24, but will instead debut on HBO later in 2019. A24 is the company responsible for Moonlight — the Academy Award-winning Barry Jenkins film that boosted 23-year-old Native Son star Ashton Sanders into the spotlight. 

Rashid Johnson appears the perfect fit to adapt Wright’s tale of Bigger Thomas, a Chicago youth whose sordid life of crime serves as a wrenching tale of systemic oppression and its disturbing manifestations.  Johnson is traditionally a multidisciplinary fine artist working in sculpture, painting, and installation, incorporating poignant symbolism of Black culture and personal identities. He is often identified as a “post-Black” artist — a term coined by Thelma Golden and Glenn Ligon in the late 1990s to describe artists who are, according to Golden, “adamant about not being labeled ‘Black’ artists, though their work was steeped, in fact deeply interested, in redefining complex notions of Blackness.”

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