While many of us are aware of just how diverse Black culture can be represented, have you ever stopped to think about if there’s one definitive “right” way to be Black? Some see the sophistication of The Obamas as the ideal Black experience, while others look at The Carters’ musical family of four as the pinnacle of Black excellence and success. On the other side of the spectrum you’ve got the allure of reality TV stars made famous on Bravo, VH1 and Zeus Network for example, each with their own way of redefining what it means to be bold, Black and boisterous.
The answer is no, of course. However, decades of stereotyping unfairly placed on us as a race has resulted in a generalized association to things like speaking Ebonics, growing up in poverty, having a penchant for violence and promoting promiscuity just to name a few. In his directorial debut, esteemed small screen writer Cord Jefferson (NBC’s The Good Place; HBO’s Succession and Watchmen) boldly approaches those Black stereotypes and many others with a clever touch of satire in his feature film released today (Dec 15) in select theaters, American Fiction.
With an ensemble cast of A-list heavy hitters, including Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown and Living Single fan-favorite Erika Alexander, American Fiction tells a hilarious story of how things can go terribly wrong when you use culture as a gimmick. Wright plays Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, the lead protagonist who decides to change his fortune as a down-on-his-luck Black novelist by creating a book filled with all the negative connotations associated with Black people often deemed as “ghetto.” The result is critical acclaim, a new love interest (Alexander) and even jealously from his writer peers (Rae). However, his personal life takes a hard hit in the process, particularly when it comes to sibling rivalry with his brother (Brown), processing the absence of a sister (Ross) and caring for an aging mother, played gracefully by Tony-winning actress Leslie Uggams.
Through Monk’s illustrious writing, the purposefully-titled My Pafology penned under his pseudonym “Stagg R. Leigh,” the audience is treated to an assorted mix of tropes that we know all too well — some you might’ve even seen in your favorite Tyler Perry film. Ironically enough, American Fiction as a whole takes a few fun jabs at Madea-type characters and whether or not it’s more entertaining rather than harmful. Overall, the non-linear ending allows you as a viewer to interpret what happens for yourself in a way, which makes the entire theatrical experience that much more pleasurable, albeit a bit confusing. Fans of Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure, which American Fiction is adapted from, will surely appreciate how the film version doesn’t lose sight of the many comedic complexities of our beautiful Black culture.
American Fiction, the directorial debut of Cord Jefferson, is in select theaters today, with a wider release scheduled for December 22. Take a look below at the featurette on a look into Jeffrey Wright’s “Monk”:
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