Journal Article

Blacker than Noir: The Making and Unmaking of Richard Wright’s ‘Ugly’ <i>Native Son</i> (1951)

Ellen Scott

in Adaptation

Volume 6, issue 1, pages 93-119
Published in print February 2013 | ISSN: 1755-0637
Published online October 2012 | e-ISSN: 1755-0645 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/adaptation/aps026
Blacker than Noir: The Making and Unmaking of Richard Wright’s ‘Ugly’ Native Son (1951)

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Richard Wright’s 1951 film of Native Son could have been the essential African-American film noir, as Wright, a Black expatriate living in Paris, was part of the very intellectual scene that invented the noir sensibility. However, contemporary prints of the film reveal it to be an ugly, difficult film. Using archival historical research into the film’s production and censorship, and analysis of the film’s noir components, this article explores how Wright (and co-writer and director Pierre Chenal) used the film’s darkness and its lacks to create a cinematic text critical of capitalism, criminalization, and American race relations, one grounded in an aesthetic that is Blacker than noir.

Keywords: Film Noir; African-American film; Richard Wright; film censorship; communism

Journal Article.  13741 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literature ; Film ; Television

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