Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction” is one of the best films to be released this year

A movie which reels you in from the first act, there is laughter, satire and a few somber scenes as it follows a disgruntled writer who shakes up the literary world. Tony and Emmy Award-winner Jeffrey Wright plays Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, a respected author and professor of English literature at a predominately white institution who hasn’t published a book in years. His latest manuscript has been rejected by nine publishing houses and his frustration is mounting. “They want a Black book,” his Puerto Rican agent, Arthur (John Ortiz), tells him.

Sterling K. Brown stars as Cliff Ellison, Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious Monk Ellison and Erika Alexander as Coraline

“They have a Black book. I am Black and it’s my book!” Monk retorts. With the mounting pressure to pen a book about gang life or Black single moms raising kids like Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), the Oberlin-educated author of the newest best seller “We’s Lives in Da Ghetto,” Monk uses a pseudonym to write an outlandish Black book of his own.

Tracee Ellis Ross stars as Lisa and Leslie Uggams as her mother Agnes

It’s a cliched one riddled with rappers, deadbeat dads, drug dealers and gun-toting hustlers which, to his surprise, propels him to fame. As major publishers and film studios clamor for what they coin as “a perfect book,” Monk is forced to question this reductive view of Blackness and his own literary versatility.

Erika Alexander stars as Coraline and Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious Monk Ellison

Based on the 2020 book ‘Erasure,” it’s a razor-sharp satirical masterpiece that’s brilliantly cast with well-rounded successful characters of color that include doctors, lawyers and writers.

Wright delivers the perfect performance. He brilliantly captures the complexity of Monk adding depth to the movie. Sterling K. Brown as his younger brother, Cliff, sprinkles a little comic relief and plays a surgeon who recently and dramatically came out of the closet and is making up for lost time.

Issa Rae stars as Sintara Golden

Tracee Ellis Ross is their sister Lisa and is an ob-gyn like their late father and Leslie Uggams is the family matriarch. Myra Lucretia Taylor plays the live-in housekeeper Lorraine, and Erika Alexander rounds out the main cast as Monk’s love interest and beach house neighbor.  Other characters include Adam Brody as Wiley Valdespino, a white Hollywood producer filming a slave drama titled “Plantation Annihilation” who desperately wants to adapt Monk’s book.

“White people think they want the truth, but they don’t. They just want to feel absolved,” Arthur reminds him in one scene.

Writer director Cord Jefferson

There is a string of cheeky cameos as “American Fiction” smartly tackles the complicated and uncomfortable issue of race, homophobia and ageism in a creative and even humorous way.

With several exchanges audiences will laugh and relate to, there are also plenty of warm hearted and heated moments and a nod to French author Guillaume Apollinaire and mention of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “The Artificial Nigger.”

Jeffrey Wright as Monk copy

“American Fiction” pokes fun at a lot of things and types of people as it unveils the misconception of Black characters written by White producers. This directorial debut by Cord Jefferson which confronts our culture’s obsession with reducing people to outrageous stereotypes, is a funny, perceptive, poignant and technically proficient film.

Sterling K. Brown as Cliff

It’s a message to Hollywood that actors of color are more than capable of multifaceted characters. Much more than rappers, pimps and roles that escalate the white crusader and a reminder that there is still room for more roles and films that celebrate Black stories — ones that don’t deal with slavery, gang banging and violence.

By Samantha Ofole-Prince/ Photos

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