How many times have you heard about a book most readers think is simply amazing only to grab a copy and realize the property grossly leans into stereotypes and tropes of Black people that white folks lick up like a cat with a bowl of milk. Does it anger you? Frustrate you or inspire you to do something about it?
Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut with American Fiction, confronts our culture’s obsession with reducing people to outrageous stereotypes. Portrayed by the amazingly gifted Jeffrey Wright, Monk is a frustrated novelist who’s fed up with the establishment profiting from “Black” entertainment that relies on these exhaustive and offensive tropes. To prove his point, Monk takes on a pen name to write an outlandish “Black” book of his own that propels him to the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain.
Bathed and dripping in a farcical, sarcastic tone Jefferson casually addresses other stereotypes of white people who think they are down, when what they really want to just be absolved as perceived racist, making Black people avid swimmers, photos of a child looking at a white and black dolls with different energy while simultaneously making it a rom com are sheer genius.
Leslie Uggams as Monk’s sweet, demented mother is charming and breaking your heart all at once. Erika Alexander is finally getting her due on the big screen as Wright’s love interest with a powerfully understated performance totally shattering the mythical tropes associated with Black women on screen. Sterling K. Brown as Monk’s maniacal, queer brother has once again hit us with a layered, complex character that you can’t help but empathize with. However, it is Jeffrey Wright who straddles the lines of comedy and drama as the glue literally holding everyone together as a lonely genius who can’t seem to figure out how to connect with the rest of society.
Infusing the film with backdrop of jazz music to match our lead character, Jefferson creating a smorgasbord of endings is so intensely brilliant it will take your mind a minute to wrap around it all, while leaving us with a blackout to suss it out for ourselves as this film never takes for granted the intelligence of its audience. Jefferson also gives vibes in some moments of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, which has another impactful narrative in a similar lane. Yet, very tactfully and tonally address the narrative and patronizing manner in which some white people seem incapable of appreciating or engaging with Black intellectualism in any type meaningful way.
Screened during the final day of the 2023 AFI Festival, American Fiction will drop on December 15th and turns out to be a political statement on tropes, while giving us the familial love story we didn’t know we needed.