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Richard Wright was one of the most outstanding literary figures of the 20th century and a key figure in the African-American emancipation movement. His landmark novel Native Son was published in 1940. It unfolds the drama of racism, through a harsh and searching narrative on the conditions of oppression and segregation that African-Americans were experiencing in the U.S.
Although the novel became a bestseller, and Wright and director Pierre Chenal wrote the screenplay in 1950, a film version of the book could not be completed in the U.S. because Hollywood producers wanted to have the African-American protagonist played by a white man. After trying to shoot in France and Italy, Argentina’s historic neutrality offered about the only possible location.
Native Son depicts the reverse of the “freedom” discourse, ultimately interrogating the promise of democracy. Beyond the Cold War binary of the East–West rivalry, Wright’s oeuvre and practice sought to empower the anti-colonial struggles connecting the battle against discrimination in the U.S. with the emancipatory political projects and communities of the Third World. Native Son remains an extraordinary example of filmmaking that engages with the Global South or South-to-South relational framework within the tightly woven net of exile and politics.
The presented copy is a 35mm work-in-progress version of the film currently undergoing restoration. Preserved by The Library of Congress, U.S.
Clara Masnatta (ICI Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin) will introduce the film with her short talk: A Hot Spot in the Cold War: Buenos Aires, 1950.