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‘American Fiction’ is factually great 

By Owen Glancy

Asst. Arts & Features Editor

Of all the 2024 Best Picture nominees, “American Fiction” directed by Cord Jefferson has one of the most interesting premises.

The story follows Monk, a Black author, sick of the success of Black stereotypes in American literature. In response, he writes a book under an alias that leans into every stereotype so heavily it could only be interpreted as a joke. However, the book becomes an extremely popular best seller and award winner. 

While that explanation may have been long winded, it’s necessary to understand what makes and breaks “American Fiction” as a film. 

Its biggest strength is Jeffrey Wright’s performance as Monk. This is possibly the best performance of Wright’s career, and he brings such a powerful and emotional energy to the film that makes his detached character feel empathetic. 

Wright’s isn’t the only powerhouse performance, as Sterling K. Brown also delivers a surprisingly great performance as Monk’s brother Clifford. He plays the role of a self-destructive man who revels in his freedom despite understanding that it’s destroying him. I was convinced he was in the right during certain scenes. 

The film is split into two distinct halves - one, a family drama centered around Monk and Clifford, the other, the inner conflict between Monk’s hatred of his new book and his twisted pride in it. 

While the film simply wouldn’t be whole without both of these halves, there is a clear dip in quality whenever the film decides to focus more on Monk’s family drama. 

The biggest conflicts here are his relationships with his mother, brother, and new girlfriend. None of these characters, aside from Clifford, are all that interesting and their conclusions are made extremely apparent straight from the start.

The obvious goal of the film is to use these apparent conclusions to show how disconnected from the family Monk is by making him oblivious to them until their individual conclusions. However, this fails if the audience doesn’t like these characters. 

Monk is where these problems really stem from. During many of his scenes with his agent where they are dealing with his book’s success and how to proceed with it, Monk is an incredibly charming character. 

His attempt to blatantly play into Black - specifically Black American - stereotypes is hilarious, and seeing him slowly start to dip into these stereotypes in his personal life is intriguing. However, all this charm and character seems to completely disappear from Monk once his family or girlfriend come on screen. 

It may sound like Monk is the problem in these scenes because his character gets worse, but it’s in fact the exact opposite. Monk’s character is actually so good in these scenes, he feels out of place. 

In attempting to escape stereotypes, he has instead become one he never imagined he would, one that has nothing to do with his race and rather everything to do with who he is as a person. He becomes the stereotypical “disconnected genius” who can’t relate to normal people. This story is so good and so compelling, propelled even further by Wright’s performance, that the majority of the other characters seem boring in comparison. 

While I do wish many of them weren’t as stereotypical as they are, the mother and Monk’s girlfriend especially, it’s mostly their performances that leave me wanting more. 

Wright and Brown do so well in comparison to their peers that it’s almost laughable. Some of this is obviously due to the writing - these writers clearly liked some characters more than others - but Wright and Brown own this film. 

“American Fiction” is a hard movie to talk about, especially given that I’m trying to avoid spoilers. Of all the films from last year, it isn’t the most colorful - that’s “Barbie.” It isn’t the most unique - that’s “Poor Things.” And it isn’t even the best written - both “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Oppenheimer” are better in comparison. But its strengths are undeniable. 

This film excels at being an incredibly funny, and an incredibly poignant story about the casual racism of the American public and how these stereotypes still affect people to this day. It will undoubtedly become a modern classic, and deserves to be recognized as an essential piece of what made 2023 such an incredible year for film. 

Rating: B+

Poignantly portrays white guilt


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