If you’re looking for a smart, snappy film that challenges norms on how people talk about race, then you’re in the right place. American Fiction, starring Jeffrey Wright as a struggling Black novelist named Monk, breaks down society’s obsession with flattening people to grotesque racial stereotypes.
The result? An often-dry, frequently hilarious and never-preachy film that leaves the viewer questioning how the Black experience is portrayed in storytelling and art.
The film opens with Monk in sort of a funk. His books aren’t selling because they aren’t “black enough.” Meanwhile, another Black author, the highly-educated, sushi-eating, Farm Rio-wearing Sinatra Golden played by Issa Rae, has written a book that completely panders to white expectations of Black storytelling. Her book, “We’s Lives in Da Ghetto,” is flying off the shelves and is the new darling of white liberals.
Monk has had enough. He decides to write a satire under the name of Stagg R. Leigh, a convicted felon on the run. His book, ‘My Pafology,” is riddled with drugs, thugs and violence…basically all the things he thinks white people think Black people should write about. He’s shocked when the book snags a publisher right away.
He’s so upset that he pulls a Prince, and changes the title to “F-ck,” hoping he’ll sink the project. Guess what? The white publishers want the book even more because it’s so real and raw. It’s gutsy, like “gazing into an open wound.”
The film takes off from there. There so many lovely, endearing family moments in the storyline, minus the sugar-coating. Audiences will love the sleuthy jazzy soundtrack, backdrops of the family’s beach house and stark contrasts of what audiences might expect to see from this family, and who they really are.
The dichotomy of Monk’s frustration is seen early on in the movie in a memorable scene. “I don’t believe in race,” he says, as a white person steals his taxi. His agent responds, “The problem is, everyone else does.”
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Director: Cord Jefferson
Actors: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, Keith David.
Running Time: 1 hour 57 min