American Fiction Review | Cord Jefferson’s Movie Is an Unflinching and Hilarious Art Critique

Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction is a hilarious drama that attacks the pretentious Black sentiment in creative art forms to grab attention. Based on Percival Everett’s book Erasure, the film pretty much exposes the attempt to hide creative shortcomings by using the pertinence of the lives mentioned in those works. Even though some of the beats in the screenplay are kind of predictable, ironically, what makes the movie a must-watch is its relevance.

So the film is about a professor named Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, who is known for some of his literary works that are appreciated academically. Because of his outspoken nature, he was forced to take a sabbatical from his teaching job, and he decided to spend that time with his family. What we see in American Fiction is his encounter with the “top seller” books and how his attempt to mock the pattern of such creations resulted in something outrageous.

The theme Cord Jefferson has chosen is a very delicate one, as it can get interpreted horribly wrong. But thanks to the subtle ways in which it acknowledges the reality, the movie never enters an offensive space, and it rather makes the viewer think about all those pseudo-intellectual creations that never really got the deserved level of flak, simply because it addressed a topic that is easily an Oscar bait worthy. Beyond the literary scene, the movie unapologetically roasts the studio system and how it markets these films to make them sound important.

The essence of the movie is that you don’t always need to show oppression and abuse whenever it is a movie about people of color. At one point, Monk is telling a fellow writer that there are things the community has achieved beyond the abuses. In fact, if you look at the primary layer of the movie, which is lingering around the family of Monk, the conflicts and resolutions do not have the usual sympathy porn nature. Cord Jefferson is basically saying, that a creative product should have interesting characters and nuances. Dipping it with woke politics to sound relevant will ultimately make the art monotonous.

Jeffrey Wright, as the baffled writer Monk, is really good, and he never makes the frustration of that character about the literary scene overtly comical. There is a main layer that deals with the equation of this character with his family, and Wright manages to make us empathize with Monk. Sterling K. Brown as Monk’s gay brother Cliff was really memorable. Erika Alexander as Caroline shares a warm chemistry with Wright on screen, and the conversational bits were fun to watch. Leslie Uggams played the part of the memory-fading mother of Monk very convincingly. Tracee Ellis Ross, as Monk’s sister Lisa, and Myra Lucretia Taylor, as Lorraine, are the other two major performers in this satirical drama.

When you are roasting a trend that is making the art look mundane, there is a possibility that your creation will also end up looking like a desperate attempt to roast everything out there. But the good thing about American Fiction is that Jefferson is primarily presenting the movie from the perspective of an individual who has an issue with what’s getting appreciated, and at the same time, he has a regular, dysfunctional life that has all the flavors of a drama without necessarily being a story that will earn him the sympathy of white people.

Final Thoughts

Even though some of the beats in the screenplay are kind of predictable, ironically, what makes the movie a must-watch is its relevance.


Green: Recommended Content

Orange: The In-Between Ones

Red: Not Recommended


By Aswin Bharadwaj

Founder and editor of Lensmen Reviews.