In many ways, Arabella’s story… is very similar to mine, but there are differences that I’ve intentionally kept so there’s always a distinction between myself and Arabella. But yes, I was writing all night in the production office that I was making a TV show for, and went on a break to meet my friend in a bar. And I had a drink, [I blacked out], and then I was back at work typing and finishing the [ChewingGum] episode that was due and didn’t quite realize my phone was smashed… — Michaela Coel
For his directorial debut, RashidJohnson has shot an update of Richard Wright’s controversial 1940 novel about Bigger Thomas’ seemingly irrevocable slide into the void. The screenplay by Suzan Lori-Parks changes some of the novel’s key plot points—”It’s not the book,” Elvis Mitchell told a recent FilmIndependent audience at the Arclight screening in Hollywood—but the expendability of black lives in this new NATIVE SON is, tragically, still contemporary.
“One of the criticisms of the book—and one I share—is the character’s lack of agency. Wright wrote them as archetypes.” — Rashid Johnson, at the FilmIndependent screening of NATIVE SON
As Bigger, Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) gives a performance of cool hesitation that recalls the voice and armature of James Dean and a young Keanu Reeves. For a scene at the home of Bigger’s rich, art-collecting employer, Johnson—in an audacious move—places his own 2015 painting Untitled (Anxious Man) directly behind Sanders as an angel/devil-over-my-shoulder figure.
NATIVE SON—which premieres tonight on HBO—co-stars KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk), Bill Camp, Sanaa Lathan, Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, Elizabeth Marvel, and David Alan Grier.
Film stills, from top: Ashton Sanders in Native Son (2019); Sanders and KiKi Layne; Sanders; Sanders and Nick Robinson (right); Sanders. Photographs by Matthew Libatique, images courtesy Sundance Institute and HBO.
Film Independent photos, from top: KiKi Layne and Rashid Johnson; Elvis Mitchell, Johnson, and Layne. Film Independent Presents HBO Screening Series—Native Son, March 20, 2019, Arclight Hollywood, photographs by Araya Diaz/Getty Images.
“You’re still high on kerosene, aren’t you? I can smell it from here.” – Beatty to Guy Montag, in FAHRENHEIT 451
In a world where Frederick Douglass remains alive, well, and discredited (at least among a disingenuous White House cadre), the news that Benjamin Franklin – founder of the first American fire department – gave license to burn is less than surprising.
Intelligence is suspect, facts confuse and divide us, and memories can only bring on depression. The solutions are mandatory medication and the eternal flame of vigilance as a Praetorian guard of fireman – led by Beatty (Michael Shannon) and his protégé Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) – fans out over the city on a search-and-destroy mission to destroy unauthorized hard drives.
On a good night, the uniformed flamethrowers hit the holy grail: rooms full of actual books. The look, the feel, the sensuality of printed paper bound between covers prove too alluring for young Montag. Out of a particularly vivid bonfire he surreptitiously rescues a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Notes fromtheUnderground and smuggles it back home. And a light turns on in his head.
Writer/director Ramin Bahrani’s new version of Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 novel FAHRENHEIT 451 – Bradbury’s confrontation with the specters of McCarthyism and television – screens on HBO this weekend. When François Truffaut filmed the book in 1966, the Vietnam War was escalating, but Watergate was still in the future. In our dark, new age of fake-fake news and institutional kleptocracy, Bradbury’s extraordinary prescience rings truer than ever.
During a Film Independentat LACMA screening earlier this month, Bahrani talked with program curator Elvis Mitchell about his latest work.
“I wanted to risk a lot with this film, and more daunting than [the version by] Truffaut was Bradbury himself and the book..
“Like people first read FAHRENHEIT 451 in high school, I wanted to make a film that would impact high-school students today. This is not a movie about the future. It’s a movie about an alternate tomorrow.”
FAHRENHEIT 451, Saturday, May 19, at 8 pm, on HBO.