Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Jeffrey Wright & director Cord Johnson excel in American Fiction

Television writer Cord Johnson delivers a stunning directorial debut in American Fiction from Orion Pictures. The film is an adaptation of the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett. Jeffrey Wright top lines the film as Monk, a Black novelist and professor who needs a hit. After an incident with an overly privileged student in class, Monk takes a break to visit his sister, Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), and mother, Agnes (Leslie Uggams). While on a relaxing vacation, Monk, stumbles upon the latest book by his fellow melanin author, Sinatra Golden (Issa Rae), which has become an overnight sensation due to its exaggerated use of stereotypes. Monk, who prides himself on writing about authentic Black experiences, is disappointed by this discovery.

However, when B unexpected family event occurs and struggling to cope with the chaos, Monk writes an outlandish book under a pen name with a fake backstory for the author. The book is a satirical portrayal of over-the-top Black characters in the media. Against the wishes of his editor, Arthur (John Ortiz), Monk sends the book out to potential publishers. To Monk’s and Arthur’s surprise, his book becomes a hit, propelling him to the center of the very thing he claims to detest – hypocrisy. As he navigates his newfound fame, Monk is forced to confront his biases and the fact that his success may have come at the cost of perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

The film’s premise reminded me of “Dumb It Down” by Lupe Fiasco, a song that comments on the state of mainstream rap and the challenge for artists to maintain their integrity in the industry. It showcases Lupe’s lyrical prowess and refusal to conform to conventional industry standards. Wright’s performance in the movie is exceptional as he skillfully delivers Johnson’s dialogue, which critiques the commercialization of African-American literature and the limitations placed on black writers. The film is characterized by its sharp wit, metafictional elements, and a narrative that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Through this innovative approach, Wright and Jefferson encourage viewers to challenge the dominant norms prevalent in media and society.

The supporting cast in the film is also good. It’s always a joy to see Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae on screen; both have great moments with Jeffrey Wright. Kudos to the casting department for using the elegant Leslie Uggams, who, at eighty years young, can still command a room. I was also delighted to see Erika Alexander in a mainstream role as Monk’s love interest. Regarding the males in the supporting cast, Adam Brody is also great as a director who wants to adapt Monk’s novel. The most surprising is Sterling K. Brown, who somewhat goes against the Monk’s brother with whom he has a rocky relationship. In a less crowded year, Brown would be a recipient of some awards talks.

American Fiction is a vital debut feature that delves into the topic of race art with great authenticity. The characters are well-developed, and the narrative is filled with biting social commentary and irony. While the pace may only suit some people’s tastes, the film offers a rewarding experience for those willing to engage with its challenging themes and unique narrative style.

Final Grade: A-

American Fiction opens in limited theaters on Friday, December 15th, and expands on the 22nd.

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Jeffrey Wright & director Cord Johnson excel in American Fiction