Times Staff Writer

Julia Wright--the elder of Richard Wright’s two daughters--attended the premiere of “Native Son” in New York recently and found the treatment of her father’s seminal 1940 novel “honest.”

Wright, 44, who is putting together a book of her late father’s unpublished haiku poetry, lives in Paris.

“I think you should know the frame of mind I traveled to New York with,” she remarked in a telephone interview. “I was very apprehensive because a film had been made in the 1950s by a Frenchman named Pierre Chenal, who used to be rather well known for making whodunits.”

Although Richard Wright starred as Bigger Thomas in that movie, which had been made in Argentina, his daughter said “he didn’t like it; he was not happy with that film at all. And the story of that film was very bizarre because a lot of prints disappeared.


“We saw that film for the first time last year,” she added, “and it was a wonderful document of Richard Wright on live film. I didn’t like it (as a movie). I could see what my father meant. In the old film, the trial is almost nonexistent. The trial was cut down to perhaps a minute, and that really is a pity. It distorts a lot.”

Not long after “Native Son” was published, Orson Welles and John Houseman collaborated on turning the work into a play. “I know that in 1942, when I was born, it was on the road,” Wright said.

“I was really happy to see this film (the new one), because it’s honest,” Wright said. “As I told (producer) Diane Silver, I much prefer an honest film with a small budget, which has a few flaws, to a big studio, big budget, commercially ambitious, etc., etc., so I’m happy.”


“Whatever the flaws are--because not enough money was put into it, money was running out--it doesn’t matter,” Wright said. “The honesty and the respect for the book, and the space given to the character of Bigger Thomas is all up there on the screen.”

She particularly praised Victor Love’s performance as Bigger. “Victor projected all the complexities of Bigger Thomas. He projected the positive and the negative, and the highs and the lows, and a lot of the despair.”

Asked whether she felt the elimination of the scene in which Bigger kills his girlfriend Bessie harms the movie, as some have suggested, Wright replied: “In the earlier film, Bessie’s murder was there. It didn’t help or hinder that film. In this film, the murder was shot, but they didn’t have enough time to shoot the murder so that it would work.”

She added that because of Love’s portrayal, “I don’t think we need Bessie’s murder to understand how desperate Bigger was. Bessie’s murder was a product of Bigger’s panic. It was a chain reaction; panic breeding more panic until he was like a wild animal. I’m using that image because in the introduction my father decribed him as an ‘animal at bay’ . . . .”

Because the Wright family, including Julia’s mother, Ellen, a literary agent, and her younger sister, Rachel, own the copyright to the novel, they will realize money from the movie.

“I have no idea how much it will earn,” Wright said. “I didn’t sign the contract; my mother did.” There was some up-front money, she said, and the rest will be a percentage of what the movie earns.

“We have the right to withdraw copyright permission from any project we feel might betray Richard Wright. I can tell you one thing,” she said with a laugh. “There was a Columbia Pictures project several years ago, which would probably have made us millionaires, but it fell through.”