[Courtesy of Focus Features]

Movie Review: The American Society of Magical Negroes

07:00 March 19, 2024
By: David Vicari

The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024)

The American Society of Magical Negroes is a satire on race. More specifically, it's a satire on race in the movies. A "Magical Negro" is a supporting Black character in a film who selflessly helps a white main character realize his or her goals. Michael Clarke Duncan was a "Magical Negro" in The Green Mile (1999) and Will Smith was one in The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), just to name a few.

[Courtesy of Focus Features]

Here in The American Society of Magical Negroes, Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) plays a young African American man named Aren, who is a starving artist. After a disastrous art show, Aren meets mysterious bartender Roger (David Alan Grier), who introduces the young man into a secret society of Black people who, through positive persuasion and some actual magical powers, help white people feel more comfortable in the world.

Aren's first major assignment is to help the white and depressed Jason (Drew Tarver), who works for an online social network called Meetbox. Aren gets a job there and falls for co-worker Lizzie (An-Li Bogan, who is the spitting image of my boyhood crush Phoebe Cates). Complications ensue when Jason wants Lizzie romantically, and if Aren doesn't give her up, the Magical Society could become extinct.

The movie is written, produced, and directed by Kobi Libii in his directorial debut, which he developed at the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab. Magical Negroes has a very funny premise, and there are some inventive moments and chuckles here and there, and Smith's lead performance is very good, but Libii never goes for the throat with the satire. It's as if he doesn't want to really offend white viewers with the comedy.

Now the movie is pleasant as a romantic comedy, and there is a twist on that at the very end. But it seems that the days of edgy satirical comedies dealing with race relations, like Putney Swope (1969), are long gone.

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