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‘American Fiction’ Movie Review

May 31, 2024 | Admit One

American Fiction is a movie for white people. It is also a movie for black people. But it’s also a movie about black people. And it’s a movie about white people.

American Fiction, movie review

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Release Date: 12/15/2023
Director: Cord Jefferson
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
IMDb: 7.5/10
Where to Watch:  Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, MGM+, Roku, Sling TV, YouTube, Philo, Fandango at Home, Google Play Movies

If this throws you off, it’s likely the subject matter of American Fiction isn’t for you… which would be a shame because that means you’re probably the target audience for whom it would have the most relevance. American Fiction is the sharpest and wittiest stereotype-busting film to release in recent years. Based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure, it is a satire of the popular conversation on Black identity held within White-dominated publishing spaces.

The film follows Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), a professor and writer specializing in Greek mythology and philosophy. After being placed on temporary leave for his brash handling of racial topics in the classroom—the film’s opening shows him examining the “N-word” in a literary context, telling a disgruntled student: “I got over it, I’m pretty sure you can too.”—Monk travels back to Boston to be with his family. While there, his agent informs him his novels are being rejected for not being “Black enough”, prompting the writing of a satirical novel, My Pafology, under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh, mocking the stereotypes surrounding Black narratives that seem to be selling in the current market.

The plot spirals into absurdity as Monk’s pseudonymous novel gains traction, securing a lucrative publishing deal and eventually a film adaptation. This absurdity is juxtaposed against Monk’s real experience dealing with the unique dramas of his upper-class family, including a suicide, a mother with rapidly-progressing Alzheimers, an estranged gay brother, and a tragic death that shocks them into confronting many of the harsh truths they’d long ago buried.

The interplay between absurd fiction and believable reality is what makes this film work so well. At the 2024 Academy Awards, American Fiction won Best Adapted Screenplay, a well-deserved accolade. While much of the film is on-the-nose and predictable, the script is sharp, intelligent, and funny without sacrificing its sense of honesty. Moreover, it doesn’t waste your time.

The reality of Monk’s personal life puts into sharp contrast the difference between his lived experience and the fiction his agent demands more and more of. It is the real, character-driven stories taking place behind the fabrications that give this film so much heart and relatability. The interactions between Monk and his family, along with his internal conflicts and traumas, provide depth and emotional resonance. The satire, while central to the film, is balanced by heartfelt explorations of Monk’s character and his family’s unique circumstances. The escalating plot culminates in a powerful ending that blurs the line between fiction and reality, daring to ask in subtle terms, “Is there a difference between engaging with a story like My Pafology, and one like American Fiction?”

In the final scene of the film, Monk, leaving a Hollywood studio backlot, makes eye contact with an actor dressed in plantation slave attire. This moment, devoid of dialogue, drives the point home in a way that no closing dialogue or thesis statement ever could. It’s an ending that reverses and counters nearly all the arguments made about race in the film, leaving the viewer to ponder the effectiveness of progressive dialogue in a system resistant to change.


About our Admit One Author

Isaac Albert Frankel

Isaac Frankel is a freelance writer and content creator specializing in reviews and analysis of cinema, interactive media, and mythological storytelling. He was raised in Prescott, AZ, wrote his first non-fiction book in 2013 after graduating from Tribeca Flashpoint College with a degree in Game & Interactive Media Design, and currently produces content for the YouTube channel: Off Screen.

More of his work and current projects can be found at www.isaacafrankel.com.