Native Son. 1951. Argentina. Directed by Pierre Chenal. 107 min.
Screenplay by Richard Wright, Chenal, based on Wright’s novel. With Wright, Gloria Madison, Jean Wallace, Nicholas Joy, Ruth Robert. Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son was a sensation, providing African Americans with a startlingly symbolic narrative and powerful new literary voice. A film version, however, was impossible, as the story delved into deep-seated fears—on the part of both blacks and whites—that American movies were not prepared to face. South America, however, had no such reservations, and in 1951 expatriate Frenchman Pierre Chenal and Uruguayan producer Jamie Prades set about adapting the harrowing tale, with Buenos Aires standing in for Chicago and American actor Canada Lee cast as the doomed protagonist, Bigger Thomas. When Lee was forced to drop out, Chenal turned to the author himself to portray his most famous fictional creation. Chenal’s version is equal parts noir thriller and social commentary, depicting the existential and societal pressures faced by a black man trying to survive in a culture dominated by whites. Presented in a brand new digital restoration by The Library of Congress. Special thanks to Edgardo Krebs, Mike Mashon, and Fernando Martín Peña