HBO’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s ‘Native Son’ gets April premiere date

From left, Kiki Layne, Sanaa Lathan, director Rashid Johnson, Nick Robinson, writer Suzan-Lori Parks and Ashton Sanders promote "Native Son" at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25.
(Taylor Jewell / Invision/Associated Press)

The anticipated film adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic novel “Native Son” will debut on HBO on April 6, Deadline reported.

HBO also released a trailer for the movie, which was directed by Rashid Johnson, the photographer and conceptual artist, and written by Suzan-Lori Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright best known for “In the Blood” and “Topdog/Underdog.”

Wright’s novel has long been considered a classic of American literature. First published in 1940, the book follows Bigger Thomas, a young African American man from Chicago jailed for the rape and murder of a woman.

The book drew controversy upon its publication and is still frequently challenged in schools where it’s assigned to students. It appeared on the American Library Assn.'s list of the most frequently challenged books of the 1990s.


The new film adaptation, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month, stars Ashton Sanders (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Moonlight”) as Bigger and Kiki Layne (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) as his girlfriend, Bessie, whom he rapes and kills. Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson and David Alan Grier also star in the movie.

Early reviews of the movie have been generally positive. At Vox, Alissa Wilkinson says the adaptation “has some problems as a film” but “still packs a punch, one that connects directly with the gut.”

And writing for Vulture, Bilge Ebiri calls the movie “visually striking” and says Sanders’ performance “breathes new life into one of American literature’s most heartbreaking and controversial characters.”

Johnson discussed “Native Son,” his debut film, with Deadline last month. “This film has a tremendous amount of subtlety,” he said. “It’s very layered. I think the takeaways are very much like that layered onion where the deeper you peel away the more and more you have an option to explore.”


Johnson’s film is the third adaptation of “Native Son.” An Argentine movie based on the novel, starring Richard Wright as Bigger, was released in 1951. And Jerrold Freeman adapted the book into a 1986 film that starred Victor Love in the lead role, along with Elizabeth McGovern, Geraldine Page, Oprah Winfrey, Ving Rhames and Matt Dillon.

The new version of “Native Son” will air on HBO and also be available for streaming on the network’s website.