The film adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son will hit the small screen this Saturday night when HBO premieres this highly anticipated movie, but there is one part of the book that the director, Rashid Johnson left out.
The back cover of the book describes the story:
“Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Richard Wright’s novel is just as powerful today as when it was written — in its reflection of poverty and hopelessness, and what it means to be black in America.” The movie is a modern-day retelling of this powerful book.
Johnson left out the scene where Bigger Thomas rapes and kills his girlfriend. The girlfriend has been the one who has supported him the whole time, but in a moment of craziness, he does the unthinkable.
In an interview with Essense, Johnson said “I was born and raised by a Black woman who was a feminist and theorist. It’s intolerable for me to think about that level of violence toward women in any way [while] allowing me to empathize with that protagonist.” We’ll have to see how that scene was skipped and if it made a difference, but actress, Sanaa Lathan, who plays Thomas’ suffering mother, said she was glad the scene was removed. Lathan admitted, “That would have been too much.”
Also in his interview, Johnson said, “We initially did include the rape and murder of Bessie. And after reading that version of the script…so much of his existential journey around his exposure, and the class shift and opportunity, and the aspects of race that are pervasive in this story, they become insignificant when we create a character who we find that we’re incapable of tolerating.”
The Me Too movement also had an effect on why Johnson removed the scene. He told the magazine, he felt that viewers just wouldn’t root for Thomas the way he needed them to if he had kept that scene in the poetic film. “I believe in 1939, Richard Wright writing this story, and even people beginning to consume it, there’s a tolerance for violence against women that is just not as present today,”
Native Son premieres on HBO this Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT.