Adoption through foster care was once deemed unlawful and forbidden by the state of New York, thus forcing children who were in the custody of these families for years to endure the uncertainty of where they will sleep next. During her career at The New York Times, Edith Evans Asbury was responsible for shedding light […]
In the Peter B. Lewis Theater of the Guggenheim Museum on Tuesday, April 2nd, director Rashid Johnson premiered his HBO film, Native Son (2019). Before starting this 1-hour and 8-minute movie, Johnson introduced himself, and let the audience know that this was his first completed film project and how he wanted the movie to relate to the “times we’re living in today.”
“Early morning I got the whole world to myself, I don’t need no alarm clock to wake me up” are the first words spoken by a deep-voiced man. The word “fate” pops up on the screen, written in bold, white letters against a black background. We have been introduced to Bigger Thomas, who is played by actor Ashton Sanders, a skinny, black, young adult, who has bright green hair and wears all dark clothing, high white socks and Converses. Bigger meets up with a drug dealer to buy some “weed” off of him. The dealer speaks to Bigger and says, “still carrying that pistol, huh?” Bigger explains that it’s his dad’s. “You know how that shit goes,” he tells him. Bigger returns home for dinner with his mother, her boyfriend Marty, and Bigger’s younger brother and sister. Biggers mother, Trudy Thomas (Sanaa Lathan), tells Bigger that her Marty (David Greer) has a job opportunity for him.
Bigger interviews for the job, and gets it. Bigger is now driving for Mr. Dalton and his family. During the interview Bigger met Mr. Dalton’s daughter, Mary (Margaret Qualley). Mary, who is about the same age as Bigger, is a white, slender girl who dresses very casually. Bigger’s first time driving for the family was taking Mary to one of her friends’ house. During this time Mary and Bigger talk and get to know each other.
After Mary is done at her friend’s house, Jan (Nick Robinson) comes out with Mary. He suggests that he drive, Bigger let’s him. Mary suggests going to Bigger’s town. Bigger, Jan, and Mary go to a bar and continue to get to know each other. Bigger learns that Jan and Mary are engaged.
Mary, Jan, Bigger and his girlfriend Bessy (KiKi Layne) all attend a party. They all take a drug, Molly. While Mary’s high on Molly, Jan catches her kissing a random man. They get into a heated argument and Jan pushes Mary to the floor. Bigger finally takes Mary home. She then said that she was starting to feel “weird.”
Once they get back to the Dalton estate, Bigger goes to the chauffers room, where he stays during the week. Mary goes to her room. Bigger hears Mary from his room. He looks outside his window and sees her doing cartwheels on the lawn, dressed only in her underwear. Bigger then runs outside and helps Mary to her room. Once they are in her room Mary repeatedly tells Bigger that she loves him, and she starts kissing him. At that point, Mrs. Dalton, Mary’s blind mother, starts to call for her from the next room. At this point Bigger is trying to keep Mary quite. She’s being loud, so to keep her quite Bigger climbs on top of her on her bed and puts a pillow on her face. Bigger isn’t focused on Mary who is still very high, although he’s on top of her his face and attention are drawn towards the bedroom door, Bigger doesn’t notice Mary’s body moving frantically, while she is suffocating. Mrs. Dalton stops calling for Mary a d goes back to her bedroom. Bigger who is now relieved ,tries to wake up Mary, who has stopped moving, and discovers that she is dead.
“Flight” is the next words that pop up boldly on the screen. After it appears, the viewer sees Bigger dragging Mary’s lifeless body out of her room. On the basement floor he proceeds to take Mary’s clothes off. He then picks up her body and slowly puts her in the burning furnace, along with all her clothes. Bigger also decides to throw in his jacket and shoes. The next morning, he wakes up to his old bedroom in his mother’s house. Bigger and his mother have a conversation. She tells him that she is proud of him because he has a steady job.
Bigger returns to the Dalton’s residence, and while he’s in the kitchen, Mrs. Dalton asks Peggy, the maid, if Mary is coming down for breakfast. Bigger asks Mrs. Dalton is she is ready to go. Peggy (Barbara Sukowa) realizes that Mary isn’t in her room. The police are called and they question Bigger with Mr Dalton standing behind him. Mr. Dalton assures the police that Bigger had nothing to do with Mary’s disappearance. After they interrogate Jan, the film takes us back to Peggy in the basement. She is now in front of the furnace and finds one of Mary’s earrings on the floor. She then puts her hand over her mouth and starts crying quietly, realizing what has happened.
A shot of a newspaper follows with the headline MANHUNT with Bigger’s face plasteredon the front cover. Jan and Bigger are seen meeting in an alleyway. Jan still believes that Bigger is innocent and offers him a good lawyer. Bigger looks at Jan and says, “it’s too late.” Jan is staring at Bigger and says “I thought we were friends,” while Bigger points his gun in Jan’s face. He slowly backs away from Jan.
Bigger now cuts off his green hair. He sneaks into the hair salon where Bessy works and tries to convince her that they should get married. Bessy stares at Bigger and asks him if he killed Mary. He says that he didn’t but that the authorities would pin it on him. He changes the subject now and tries to tell Bessy to hideout with him, she agrees and they are now on the run together.
Bessy and Bigger end up at an abandoned and run-down building. They slept there overnight. The next morning Bessy finds Bigger’s gun and questions him about it, she ends up throwing it out the window. Two people outside of the building see the gun being thrown out. Bigger is now upset with Bessy and keeps asking her “Why did you do that?” Bigger starts to choke her and she asks, “Are you going to kill me too?” He lets her go and she runs off crying. Sirens are now going off outside of the building. It’s the police who are arriving.
As Bigger sees Bessy running away outside of the building, he stops looking at her and runs upstairs. The police are now after him. They shout out and tell him to stop, but he doesn’t listen to them. The running finally ends and Bigger moves his hand a . inch away from his pocket, indicating to the police that he might be armed. Bigger is then shot five times in his chest.
The movie is over and the theater lights turn back on. Nick Robinson who plays Jan and Maragret Qualley are now on stage for a Q&A. Qualley is dressed as the opposite of her character. In the movie she was sexuallized after meeting Bigger, whereas seeing her in person she looks like a shy person. The Q&A begins and Robinson is asked about his knowledge on the Richard Wright’s classic novel, Native Son. He responds by saying he’s familiar with it but has never read it. He tells the audience how Rashid Johnson didn’t want them to read the book before the filming. Qualley and Robinson talk about how they were “blown away” by the script.
Watching the film without reading the book makes a person want to read the differences between the two. When watching Native Son you realize how this can connect to the current events happening with the police and black men. I suggest everyone watch Native Son on HBO because it is a riveting story about how one misstep can have tragic consequences.