Director: Rashid Johnson
Writers: Suzan-Lori Parks (screenplay), Richard Wright (novel)
Starring: Ashton Sanders, KiKi Layne, Nick Robinson, Margaret Qualley
Program: U.S. Dramatic Competition
Built on the structure of Richard Wright’s classic novel, “Native Son" follows Bigger “Big” Thomas, a young African American man living in contemporary Chicago. Big’s interest in early American punk rock, death metal, classical music and his determination to not play into racial stereotypes make him an outsider, even among his friends. When he takes a job as a driver for a wealthy white man, Big’s place in the world becomes increasingly insecure.
Its gutsy to adapt a classic piece of literature, moving into original setting to modern times and tweaking aspect of the story to tell a contemporary story. That’s exactly what director Rashid Johnson did for his feature debut. Of course, when you have Susan-Lori Parks, a Pulitzer Price winning playwright, writing your script, the possibility of the project succeeding improves greatly. As someone who grew up on the fringes of the Salt Lake City punk scene, I was fascinated by Big, connected to him. I’ve often said that I go into a film looking to either experience something completely foreign to me or something that speaks directly to my own experiences. This film did both. I certainly was’t expecting that. I was equally impressed by the film’s ability to straddle numerous genres without feeling disjointed. It’s primarily a straightforward drama, but there are surreal and horror elements mixed in for flavor.
The cast is exceptional. The soundtrack, which features bands like Bad Brains, Death and Beethoven feels smart and authentic. Someone did their homework. The score from “Stranger Things” composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is surprisingly conventional, but it works because, like Big, it feels out of time without ever being out of step with the film’s themes.
Saturday, January 26, Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room, Noon
Wednesday, January 30, Library Center Theater, 6 PM
Thursday, January 31, Egyptian Theatre, 11:45 PM