In the Works: Native Son and More

A24 is setting up an adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son, reports Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. “Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks has written the script and celebrated conceptual artist Rashid Johnson will direct the film, which will take place in the present day in Johnson’s hometown of Chicago. Ashton Sanders in final negotiations to take on the iconic role of Bigger Thomas and Margaret Qualley (Novitiate,The Nice Guys), Nick Robinson (Love, Simon,Jurassic World), KiKi Layne (Barry Jenkins’s upcoming If Beale Street Could Talk) and Bill Camp (The Night Of) are also set. Matthew Libatique (Black Swan,Straight Outta Compton) will be the director of photography.”

Back in 2010, when Time drew up a list of the 100 best novels in English since 1923, Richard Lacayo took on Native Son: “In Chicago of the 1930’s, where Bigger Thomas has found work as a chauffeur, he murders a young white woman, the only child of the wealthy family who has just hired him. Though the killing is accidental, it becomes a kind of retroactive act of will. It leads Thomas to an inquiry into his own injuries and humiliations at the hands of a sometimes literally bloodthirsty white society. There are passages of standard social preachment in this book, but Wright brings Bigger’s situation into the most uncomfortable places of the American racial standoff. That’s exactly where it had to go.” For more on Native Son within the context of Wright’s work overall, see John A. Williams’s 1991 piece for the Washington Post.

Native Son was first adapted for the stage by Wright and Paul Green. None other than Orson Welles directed the first production, which opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway in March 1941, almost exactly one year after the novel’s publication. There have been two film adaptations, the first directed by Pierre Chenal, written by Wright and Chenal, and starring Wright himself as Bigger Thomas (image above). “To get to it very bluntly, Native Son is not a great film because too much of what it is about exists in the off-screen world,” wrote Stanley Crouch for Film Comment in 2012.

Jerrold Freeman directed a second version in 1986. “This is not an easy role to play, but a newcomer named Victor Love does a powerful job of it,” wrote Roger Ebert that year. “Love is surrounded by a big-name cast: Elizabeth McGovern as the daughter, Matt Dillon as her boyfriend, Oprah Winfrey as Bigger’s mother, Carroll Baker as the dead girl’s mother and Geraldine Page as the maid. I am not sure that all the familiar faces help the story, although Winfrey and Baker, the two mothers, have a powerful scene together near the end, and Dillon is surprisingly convincing as the young radical.”

Also in the Works

Ava DuVernay will follow up on A Wrinkle in Time with New Gods, “creating a new universe of properties” for Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe, reports Variety’s Dave McNary. “Created and designed by Jack Kirby, the comic was first released in 1971.” The Atlantic’s David Sims suggests that an “argument could be made that DuVernay and Warner Bros. both need each other. . . . New Gods is one of the most exciting and experimental works in the DC canon, a celestial epic . . . involving almighty characters like the evil Darkseid, the heroic Orion, and the bruising female hero Big Barda, whom DuVernay named as her favorite comic-book character last year. . . . Betting on artists is the approach Warner Bros. should’ve backed from the beginning, and it’s one that the studio’s finally pivoting toward now.”

Metro’s Gregory Wakeman has gotten Danny Boyle to confirm that he’s working on what would be the twenty-fifth James Bond movie, even as he prepares to shoot an untitled musical comedy first. “We are working on a script right now. And it all depends on that really. I am working on a Richard Curtis script at the moment. We hope to start shooting that in six or seven weeks. Then Bond would be right at the end of the year. But we are working on them both right now. . . . We’ve got an idea, John Hodge [Trainspotting], the screenwriter, and I have got this idea, and John is writing it at the moment. And it all depends on how it turns out. It would be foolish of me to give any of it away.”

“Ridley Scott is in talks to direct Queen and Country at Fox, the spy thriller based on the Eisner award-winning graphic novel by Greg Rucka,” reports Umberto Gonzalez at TheWrap. “Set in the fictional British Secret Intelligence Service, Queen and Country centers on an operative named Tara Chace, a top British intelligence agent who is used as bait to draw out an international terrorist after an attack in London.”

Steven Soderbergh has completed principle photography on High Flying Bird with André Holland, reports Zack Sharf at IndieWire. Filming wrapped “on March 15 at 1:09pm. By 3:41pm on the same day, the director already had a first cut of the drama ready to be seen.” Holland plays “an NBA agent who tries to get his rookie client to accept a controversial business opportunity after a lockout temporarily shuts the league down. The project is one of two Soderbergh films that were announced earlier this year, the second being a thriller called Planet Kill from Unsane scribe James Greer and Contagion writer Scott Z. Burns.”

Miranda July has set up her third feature with Plan B and Annapurna, reports Patrick Hipes for Deadline. “Details are mostly under wraps, but the plot centers on Old Dolio, and how her world is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join their biggest heist yet.”

Amma Asante (A United Kingdom) will direct an adaptation of David E. Hoffman’s bestselling thriller The Billion Dollar Spy, reports Deadline’s Anita Busch. It’s based on the true story of “the Pentagon’s most valuable spy during the last years of the Cold War. Despite numerous rejections by a cautious CIA on the lookout for undercover KGB agents, Adolf G. Tolkachev, the chief designer at the USSR’s Research Institute of Radio Engineering, handed over tens of thousands of pages of highly classified documents to the U.S.”

John Cho is joining Demian Bichir and Andrea Riseborough in Nicolas Pesce’s “reimagining” of The Grudge, the Takashi Shimizu’s horror hit that launched a franchise back in the early 2000s, reports Variety’s Justin Kroll.

Curzon will handle distribution in the UK of In Fabric, the forthcoming film by Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio,The Duke of Burgundy), reports Screen’s Tom Grater. Marianne Jean-Baptiste stars in the “ghost tale set against the backdrop of a busy winter sales period in a department store. The plot follows the life of a cursed dress as it passes from person to person with devastating consequences. Gwendoline Christie, Hayley Squires and Julian Barratt also star.”


David Tennant is joining Jennifer Garner in Camping, a half-hour comedy series Girls creators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner are developing for HBO, reports Deadline’s Denise Petski.Camping centers on Walt (Tennant), whose 45th birthday was supposed to be a delightful weekend back to nature, at least according to his obsessively organized and aggressively controlling wife Kathryn (Garner). But when the camping trip gathers Kathryn’s meek sister, holier than thou ex-best friend and a free-spirited Tagalong in one place, it becomes a weekend of tested marriages and woman-on-woman crime that won’t soon be forgotten. Plus, bears.”

Hulu “has put drama Demons, inspired by true events and chronicling the hysteria known as the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s and ‘90s, in development.” Juliet Lashinsky-Revene for the Hollywood Reporter: “The drama revolves around Marilyn Jones, the seductive ‘patient zero’ in the frenzy surrounding satanic ritual abuse, and her husband, Bennett Lewis, a brilliant but manipulative psychiatrist. In success, each season of Demons would explore a twisted crime affected by the couple’s dark exploration into the fragile nature of memory and guilt.”

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