Eddie Muller who, in turn, offered a short film clip to help contextualize the West Coast premiere of the restored 35mm print of Native Son (1951). The clip, provided by California Newsreel, was from the 1995 documentary Richard Wright: Black Boy.
Richard Wright's Native Son, published in 1940, was a runaway bestseller and a landmark of American literature. In the early 1940s, Orson Welles and John Houseman staged a theatrical production starring Canada Lee that received tremendous reviews. "Obviously," Muller stated, "when anything is that successful, Hollywood is interested. But if you think that Hollywood was going to touch this novel in the 1940s, there would be no way. Richard Wright knew that—if it ever got to the screen Hollywood-style—it was going to be completely eviscerated and never emerge on screen as the book he had written. So he really thought there was no hope of this ever reaching the screen. But, in fact, Richard Wright was a huge movie fan, loved cinema, and like all authors harbored the hope that somehow, some way, his book would eventually be turned into a film.
Jaime Prades saw the theatrical production of Native Son and decided that he wanted to produce it so he and a French film director named Pierre Chenal—who was no stranger to noir; he had directed an adaptation of Crime and Punishment as well as some really terrific noir films in France—decided they would team up to bring Native Son to the screen. It couldn't even be shot in the United States of America, so they decided to shoot it in Buenos Aires to substitute in for Chicago, where the novel is set. They did come to the United States at one point and shot illegally in Chicago to get second unit shots, inserts, and things like that; but, most of the film was shot in Buenos Aires. They wanted Canada Lee to play Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of the story, but—by that point—Lee was no longer really interested in playing the character. He was 47 years old and the character of Bigger Thomas in the book was 20, so he felt that he was too old to play the part. Of course, anybody with any common sense would know that the issue with Bigger Thomas was not his age, but the color of his skin.
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a two-time president of Bolivia who had worked on Native Son as the assistant director. It was such a multicultural production that de Lozada was the most qualified bilingual person Pierre Chenal could find and thereby became a very important contributor to the production of the film.
Muller dedicated the Noir City screening to Edgardo Krebs, the man who saw to it to singlehandedly resurrect the film. He stressed the specialness of the occasion by reminding his Noir City audience that—each of us would watch the film and judge for ourselves what we thought of Native Son as a piece of cinematic entertainment—but, judgment notwithstanding, he could assure us we would be watching an immensely significant cultural artifact.