[Courtesy of MGM]

Movie Review: American Fiction

07:00 January 17, 2024
By: Fritz Esker

American Fiction

Writer/director Cord Jefferson's satire American Fiction is generating plenty of Oscar buzz. This writer's verdict is that buzz is mostly deserved. It may not be in the top 5 for the year, but it is a worthwhile film and it would be pleasing to see actors Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown get nominations.

Wright is an admirable character actor who has excelled in wildly different roles like 1999's underrated Ride With The Devil and 2000's fun Shaft reboot (others might recognize him from HBO's Westworld or as Felix Leiter in the Daniel Craig James Bond films). In American Fiction, he plays Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, a writer of highbrow fiction that gets little in the way of sales or critical notice.

While Monk deals with a family tragedy, his most recent effort is rejected by publishers and he witnesses the literary success of Sinatra Golden (Issa Rae). Golden's acclaim rankles Monk because he feels it traffics in stereotypes and flattens the African-American experience to one of poverty and misery.

Faced with the costs of placing his dementia-addled mother in a nursing home, Monk writes a book full of the stereotypes he loathes and submits it to publishers under an alias as an act of trolling/spite. However, they love it and Monk must deal with the fallout.

Wright's terrific in the lead, and Brown is also excellent as Wright's gay brother. The film shifts back and forth between being an affecting family drama and a satire of the publishing industry and people who congratulate themselves for caring about minority representation while ignoring minority opinions.

While the film is enjoyable overall, the one flaw that stuck out was Jefferson setting the story in the present day. American Fiction is based on a 2001 book called Erasure by Percival Everett. The plot makes perfect sense in that era as the 1990s was the decade of gangsta rap. It was the decade of movies like Boyz N The Hood, Menace II Society, and New Jack City, as well as books like Push (which would be made into the Oscar-winning film Precious). However, the books by Black authors in bookstores today are not solely inner-city misery porn (stop by a local bookstore to see for yourself) and the films made by Black writers and directors are not limited to slavery or crime stories. American Fiction would have been better off set at the time of the novel's release.

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