American Fiction

American Fiction is a an excellent, well-crafted and subversive film.

It tells the story of a Black author and sometime professor (there’s certainly a lot of films about professors this year) who receives generally positive reviews for his poorly selling written work, but creates friction at his school because of the bluntness he uses in trying to break down racial stereotypes. The cast includes Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison( in the lead role), Tracee Ellis Ross as Lisa Ellison (Monk’s mother), Issa Rae as Sintara Golden (Monk’s love interest), Sterling K. Brown as Clifford “Cliff” Ellison (Monk’s ne’er do well brother) and John Ortiz as Arthur (Monk’s literary agent).

The film is expertly directed by Cord Jefferson, who also wrote the screenplay based on the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett.

Satire is the underlying mode of the film. Monk is aghast when he encounters a best selling book that blatantly panders to Black stereotypes, especially after he is asked to join a board that will award a literary prize. When he encounters the author of the book he find so offensive, Monk is surprised. He is bewildered when he finds out she is middle class and far from the character portrayed in her allegedly autobiographical book getting raves from a mostly white audience.

Annoyed and frustrated, Monk begins to write his own version of a similar Blaxploitation novel and submits it to Arthur, who immediately sees its huge economic potential. Monk pushes back against submitting it to publishers, but finally agrees to do so and the audience begins to know where this is headed.

The novel is published, even after Monk tries to stop its publication by insisting it be retitled Fuck.

The ensuing storyline is intercut with a fairly touching interplay between Monk’s ailing mother and Monk’s budding love interest. For further comic relief, Monk’s brother intrudes on the proceedings at all the perfectly inappropriate moments.

Jefferson has a deft hand in balancing the issues with which Monk is grappling, lacing humor and dramedy impressively. It is Jefferson’s directorial debut, so we hope to see more from him before too long.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.