HBO's 'Native Son' Is a Tragic Urban Fable Rooted in Today's Polarized Society

Matt Roush
Preview HBO

Quite the impressive pedigree of talent HBO has assembled for Native Son, an adaptation of Richard Wright's controversial 1940 novel.

The tragic urban fable of Bigger Thomas (Moonlight's quietly expressive Ashton Sanders) is effectively modernized in a script by Pulitzer-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and visualized with an oppressive mood of fatalistic inevitability by artist Rashid Johnson, a first-time director.

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Sporting green hair, bling and a defensive attitude, brooding Bigger is afflicted with what he describes in voiceover as a "double consciousness…the sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others."

His sense of racial and class dislocation deepens when he takes a job as driver for the family of a Chicago real estate mogul (Bill Camp), whose dilettante rebel daughter (Margaret Qualley) invites Bigger into her woke clique of political activism.

(Credit: HBO)

Unwilling to conform to stereotypes imposed on him by his friends from the projects or his patronizing new acquaintances oozing white privilege, Bigger uneasily straddles both worlds until the heavy hand of fate intervenes. As the film spirals into a grisly nightmare, Native Son ends with an image all too familiar in today's polarized society.

Native Son, Movie Premiere, Saturday, April 6, 10/9c, HBO