Why the Art and Design Details of Rashid Johnson’s Native Son Matter
Art Business

Why the Art and Design Details of Rashid Johnson’s Native Son Matter

A still from Native Son, directed by Rashid Johnson with production design by Akin McKenzie (courtesy HBO, photo by Matthew Libatique) In his new film Native Son , first-time director Rashid Johnson offers a bold, modern-day take on Richard Wright’s classic novel published in 1940. Set in Chicago and adapted for the screen by Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Susan-Lori Parks, lead character Bigger Thomas — played by Moonlight ’ s Ashton Sanders in an understated performance — takes a life-changing step up the socioeconomic ladder when the wealthy Dalton family hires him as their full-time driver. But as Bigger adjusts to his new life in the ultra-rich white world the Daltons inhabit, things take a sharp turn, sending his life into turmoil. Johnson, a conceptual artist himself, had an art-heavy vision for the film and it was production designer Akin McKenzie’s job to help execute it. Throughout the film, McKenzie strategically places the work of several prominent Black visual artists in what he calls his “environments.” From Glenn Ligon to Michelle Obama’s official portraitist Amy Sherald to Kara Walker, the paintings dance between background and foreground in several key moments in the story. The striking juxtapositions between the art and […]

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