Argentina Gifts President Obama Complete, Restored Copy of Native Son Film
There have been 2 film versions, and both of them were 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 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).
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 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 as 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), literally more than twice the age of Thomas in his novel, who is 20, and was too well fed and obviously too well off to play the role.
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 Thomas, would be a selling point.
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. That can’t be argued. However, it has had the sad misfortune of also being extremely unlucky at the movies.
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