For His Directorial Debut, Artist Rashid Johnson Casts ‘Moonlight’ Actor to Star in His Adaptation of ‘Native Son’

The artist Rashid Johnson has cast Ashton Sanders to play the lead role in his debut feature film, an adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son. The actor, who portrayed teenage Chiron in the Academy Award-winning picture Moonlight (2016), will play the novel’s protagonist Bigger Thomas.

Sanders is the latest addition to what is quickly becoming a star-studded lineup. Johnson has already tapped Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks to adapt the novel and Matthew Libatique to head up cinematography.

The story follows the trials and tribulations of a young black man in present-day Chicago—where Johnson is originally from—as he struggles to navigate a racist and segregated society.

“I first read [Native Son] in my late teens,” Johnson told artnet News in February 2017. “It was a real eye opener. It was such a complicated book and story that it just really changed the way I was seeing the world. I came back to it in my early 30s and was thinking about the times that we were living in and how significant a book like this continues to be. It just stayed on my mind, the idea of an incredibly complicated black character and investigating his incredibly difficult, complicated circumstances in a world that was also kind of pitted against him. All of those things against him came to me while trying to bring it to the screen.”

Johnson is joining the likes of Julian Schnabel, Steve McQueen, and Sam Taylor-Wood, fellow artists who have crossed over into the film industry, often to great acclaim.

Native Son is scheduled to go into production next month, according to the Art Newspaper.

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