Toronto Film Festival 2023: American Fiction

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Director: Cord Jefferson
Writers: Cord Jefferson, Percival Everett

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, Keith David, Issa Rae, Sterling K Brown
Runtime:  1 Hour 57 Minutes

Synopsis:

Starring Jeffrey Wright in one of his most beautifully nuanced performances, American Fiction is both a wickedly smart satire about the commodification of marginalized voices and a bittersweet portrait of an artist forced to re-examine the terms of his integrity.

Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Wright) is a respected author and professor of English literature. But his impatience with his students’ cultural sensitivities is threatening his academic standing, while his latest novel is failing to attract publishers; they claim Monk’s writing “isn’t Black enough.” He travels to his hometown of Boston to participate in a literary festival where all eyes are on the first-time author of a bestseller titled We’s Lives In Da Ghetto, a book Monk dismisses as pandering to readers seeking stereotypical stories of Black misery. Meanwhile, Monk’s family experiences tragedy, and his ailing mother requires a level of care neither he nor his trainwreck of a brother (Sterling K. Brown) can afford.

One night, in a fit of spite, Monk concocts a pseudonymous novel embodying every Black cliché he can imagine. His agent submits it to a major publisher who immediately offers the biggest advance Monk’s ever seen. As the novel is rushed to the printers and Hollywood comes courting, Monk must reckon with a monster of his own making.

Adapted from Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut is a wildly entertaining send-up of our hunger for so-called authenticity. Featuring stellar supporting turns from Issa Rae and Erika Alexander, and a string of cheeky cameos, American Fiction is a timely reflection on the fictions we tell ourselves about race, progress, and community.

Out of all the films at the Toronto Film Festival, American Fiction seemed like the one that would be a setup for disappointment.      Several big name actors (Jeffrey Wright, Sterling K Brown, Issa Rae, etc). It just reeks of the type of film to draw an audience in but disappoint them. Thankfully, Cord Jefferson does not fall into the trap and makes a very smart, nuanced film that is both funny, serious and insightful all at the same time. 

American Fiction succeeds where other films like it have failed because it does not try to run away from the point it's trying to make by trying to over-explain its point or cater to the wrong audience. It's a very refreshing take on black art and black family. While some will look at the obvious, over-the-top and quite frankly, funny plot of the film, there is a very nuanced, subtle plot that revolves around the complexities of a black family. American Fiction tackles topics like:

  • Black families and acceptance (or not) of homosexuality in their family
  • Black male anger that is directed inward instead of expressed safely
  • How the "Black experience" can be the same regardless of income and social status
  • Respectability politics in Black Art
  • and so many more issues

This is the film that so many think they're making when they want to tackle some of these concepts but fail. American Fiction manages to sneak in a lot of complex issues while masking it under superficial which is very meta for the plot of this film. This is definitely a must see film.


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Charles (Kriss)

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