Native Son adaptation gives props to Updike

In a reveiw published in The Atlantic, Hannah Giorgis pronounced the new HBO adaptation “An Arty but Superficial Take on Native Son.”

She writes that the production, directed by Rashid Johnson with a screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks, “thankfully dispenses with some of the novel’s most graphic elements and moves its protagonist out of the 1930s and into contemporary Chicago. This Bigger, who more often goes by Big, is played by a graceful and dynamic Ashton Sanders (Moonlight). He skulks about the screen, and the South Side, in green hair and punkish attire: black high-water pants, black nail polish, a black leather jacket with OR AM I FREAKING OUT spray-painted across the back. Big’s got a lot of style. The same could be said for the film itself.”

However, Giorgis writes, “The film gestures at Big’s internal motivations, but doesn’t bear them out. Instead, we see him visibly uncomfortable in a soul-food joint with Mary (Margaret Qualley) and her white Communist boyfriend, Jan (Nick Robinson). We get classical-music interludes and shots of books, including Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, in Big’s room. (In the shot that features the Ellison book, Big places a gun on it.) We see him admire the Daltons’ library, and the camera lingers for a moment on the volumes—among them, John Updike’s Rabbit Redux, Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, and, naturally, Richard Wright’s Native Son. These signifiers function primarily as shortcuts for suggesting that Bigger is a different sort of black man without offering any context for why the norm itself exists.”

Related story: “Native Son Gets the James Baldwin Edit”

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