American Fiction: It’s a white people problem

Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction

American Fiction is a satire dealing with how white people believe Black people should be portrayed as ghettoized, badly spoken, violent and dangerous. It had some good moments and points to make, but it was all rendered into a tropey slumber party trick by the bad ending.

In American Fiction, Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) writes scholarly novels that don’t sell. His agent sends him to a conference where he sees Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) speak about her best selling novel. She’s an intelligent woman, but when she begins to read from her novel it’s in dialect that makes the characters seem ignorant.

White people love this.

Monk is discouraged. He takes a leave from his job. His agent wants him to write a book like the one Sintara Golden wrote.

Jeffrey Wright and Tracee Ellis Ross in American Fiction

Monk goes to see his mother (Leslie Uggams), who is suffering from dementia. Monk’s sister, Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a doctor. She tries to explain to Monk that their mother needs more care than she and the long-time housekeeper Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor) can provide. She also tells Monk the kind of financial trouble the family is in and how selling their house on the beach won’t solve the money problems.

And, oops, Lisa dies. Clifford (Sterling K. Brown), Monk’s gay brother, comes home for the funeral. He is a plastic surgeon. Should be a responsible person, should he not? But he isn’t. He’s only come out recently and his parents never accepted him as gay. He is busy celebrating being his true self.

Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction

Monk needs money to care for his mother. He writes a terrible novel under the pen name Stagg R. Leigh. It uses all the things he hates about how white people stereotype black people. It becomes a best seller and wins prizes. He can’t stand it. He’s ashamed of writing it and hates that people like it.

Erika Alexander and Jeffrey Wright in American Fiction

Monk starts living at the beach house and dating Coraline (Erika Alexander) from across the street. He really hates it when Coraline says she like the book – she doesn’t know he wrote it.

Leslie Uggams and Sterling K. Brown in American Fiction

There’s a beautiful scene after their mother is taken to a care home. Clifford plays some of her favorite music and asks his mother to dance. She shatters the moment by saying, “I never believed you were queer.” He walks out without a word.

A lot of people thought the satire parts of the film were hilarious and the family drama was a distraction. I didn’t find the satire particularly funny and I loved the genuine and real look into the family. I thought the ending was a flop. So, as is often the case, my response to a film is the exact opposite of what a lot of reviewers had.

If you watch it, share what you thought of it in the comments. You can see it on Prime Video or MGM+.

2 thoughts on “American Fiction: It’s a white people problem”

  1. christopher swaby

    i really enjoyed this film. i suspect Black people and non Black people typically have different views of the satire – my white friends to a person found the satire hilarious. i found the satire more nuanced. and the family piece that they found unnecessary is the foundation for any understanding of Monk’s character. i have found that many movie viewers dont really see non white people as having a rich family life.

    this is a film i will watch again.

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