“American Icons: Native Son” for Studio 360

The story of a young man in the ghetto who turns to murder was an overnight sensation. Richard Wright set out to confront white readers with the most brutal consequences of racism, and finally lay to rest the stereotype of the passive Uncle Tom — “he literally wanted to create a bigger Thomas,” one scholar argues. But some think Native Son exploited the worst stereotypes of black youth. “Is this giving me permission to go kill white women?” wondered a young Carl Hancock Rux. “Is that what we’re supposed to be doing now?”

We trace the line from Bigger Thomas to Notorious B.I.G., and visit a high school drama class acting out Native Son, and struggling to grasp the racism their grandparents experienced. With Nathan McCall, Carl Hancock Rux, and Richard Wright’s daughter, Julia Wright.