After five nominations for the 2024 Oscars, Cord Jefferson's American drama was USG Movies' latest choice for its free weekly screening at the Princeton Garden Theater.
The comedy/drama, premiering September 2023, follows protagonist Thelonious Monk Ellison, played by Jeffrey Wright. A black author and professor, Monk published several novels, but none received rave reviews. While confronting the publishing industry's prejudice against books by black authors, Monk must also confront his personal family struggles. Monk becomes frustrated that to be praised, black authors must write stories highlighting the struggles of black Americans, such as supporting character Sintara Goldens Wes Lives in Da Ghetto, played by Issa Rae. Professional misfortunes are compounded by misfortunes personal when Monk's sister dies.
While going through frustration with his field and grief for his sister, Monk is driven to write a book unlike any he has written before. Under a pseudonym, Monk writes exactly the same kind of narrative that displeases him: one focused on violence and crime, giving readers what they believe to be valuable insight into the black American experience. Ultimately, the book became the highlight of his career.
Although American fiction is notable for its satire and witty dialogue, the storyline also offers an authentic and complex examination of racial, media, and family dynamics. Jeffrey Wright's portrayal of Monk, despite the seriousness of the content, provides refreshing comic relief. For example, when Monk hastily removes his books from the African American studies section of a bookstore because the subject matter of his books is unrelated, he humorously ignores a protest from the employees. This reflects a broader truth of American fiction, for although the film grapples with heavy themes and harsh realities of racial discrimination, it offers balance with glimmers of levity.
While at times the film's plot feels like two separate stories, one in which Monk struggles with the expectations of black perpetrators and the second in which he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his sister and to support his ailing mother, the two plots intertwine while the plot of the film feels like two separate stories. the film is progressing. Monk is tricked into using the income from the novels he has written as a joke to provide conveniences for his mother's declining health. In doing so, he sacrifices his income for something more important to him: his family. However, with signs of his mother's deteriorating health, Monk isn't sure how effective his efforts can be.
Jeffrey Wright, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the upcoming awards ceremony in March 2024, delivers a genuine performance, making it difficult to imagine another actor taking on the role of Thelonious Monk Ellison. American Fiction is a story about the intersection between media, family, and introspection. While Monk is dismissive of the representation of Black Americans in entertainment, American Fiction presents such narratives in a new light, leading viewers not only to laugh but also to think.
Annie Wang is an associate editor for The Prospect in W. Va. She can be contacted at [email protected].
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