What is American Fiction worth, the Oscar-winning film that arrived by surprise on Prime Video?  (critical)

What is American Fiction worth, the Oscar-winning film that arrived by surprise on Prime Video? (critical)

In the running for five statuettes, this satire cleverly plays with “woke” ideas. And gives Jeffrey Wright the opportunity to have fun like he rarely does.

Preceded by an excellent reputation (he notably received the Audience Award at the last Toronto festival), American Fiction is being released today on the sly on Prime Video in France. Why is the service depriving itself of promotion for such an ambitious first film? It is all the more a mystery because it is nominated in five categories at the 2024 Oscarsand not the least: best film, best actor for Jeffrey Wrightbest supporting actor for Sterling K.Brown, best adapted screenplay and best music. So certainly, he appears as an outsider compared to Oppenheimer Or Anatomy of a fallbut still: such a selection should logically lead to significant promotion from its distributor, right?

American Fiction is it too much “American” to be a hit in France? Or too much “black” ? If we dare to ask this question, which may seem absurd, it is because it is at the heart of its concept. Jeffrey Wright, actor known for three decades across the Atlantic for strong roles in Angels in America, Basquiat Or Aliis especially famous here for his supporting roles in successful blockbusters such as the recent James Bond, in which he plays Felix Leiter, in The Batmanwhere he played Jim Gordon, or in the aborted series Westworld. His personal commitments – he publicly defends the rights of African-Americans, women or the poorest, denounces the actions of Donald Trump… – make noise in his country of origin, but are little relayed here.

Jeffrey Wright Fights Stereotypes in American Fiction (Trailer)

Wright finds in this project the perfect role to mix passion for cinema and political commitment, joyfully delving into the multiple facets of this particularly rich character – he is particularly good during the sardonic exchanges with his editor, played by the equally excellent John Ortiz.
He plays Thelonious “Monkey” Ellison, an author of novels, who is not successful despite his obvious talent, until the day he decides to let off steam in a text full of clichés and provocations… which will be a hit. Especially among white readers. Bought at a high price, his manuscript, which he signed with a pseudonym forcing him to create a hard-living alter-ego (“thug life!”) from scratch, was even quickly bought to make “an Oscar film”.

By adapting the book Erasure, by Percival Everett, the writer and journalist Cord Jefferson knows that he has in his hands material rich enough not to overdo it in terms of staging. However, he offers some funny ideas, like this way of bringing to life gangstas with flowery language, born from Monk's imagination at the very moment he is thinking about his story. Writing live “American fiction”he then himself becomes his own object “troll”, and this will have serious consequences. Will he laugh for long at his bad joke? Or will she turn against him?

If American Fiction is not without its faults – its multitude of characters makes some of them too little present, like the protagonist's sister, for example; certain elements of the plot are a little too predictable, its multiple live rewrites can break its realism -, the film still manages to convince thanks to its scathing humor, which echoes recent productions reflecting intelligently on this same theme of black identity, such as Get Outby Jordan Peele, or Sorry to Bother You, by Boots Riley. But also to older and yet still relevant references, such as The Very Black Show, by Spike Lee, which followed a black screenwriter struggling to get his ideas accepted by the boss of his TV channel. 24 years after its release, the situation has not evolved much, neither in the audiovisual sector, nor in literary circles or the cinema world. In this context, how can you make your voice heard?

By pointing the finger at an entire system, Cord Jefferson fires live bullets at producers/publishers seeking at all costs to be more inclusive while in fact proposing the absolute opposite of a benevolent approach. The mind “woke” takes it seriously from the intro scene, a note of intent during which the writer-professor is questioned by a student about the use of the term “negroes”and the film will never cease to remain on this sensitive chord.

American Fiction also manages to touch during family sequences which ring true, and which offer a credible example of what his hero denounces precisely, with his “normal” and yet complicated life: his sick mother, his brother rejected since his coming out, his money problems, but also this touch of hope given by positive examples such as the faithful Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor), always there to support those close to her.

Finding the balance between this need for legitimate denunciation and the desire to offer a realistic portrait of a black American man without there being any question of drugs or police blunders is quite perilous, and in places, American Fiction suffers from some heaviness as it insists on bringing together all its messages in a single film, but the basic idea is strong enough and well addressed to make an impression.

Will this outsider walk away victorious at the Oscars? One thing is certain: he indeed deserves to be included in the selection of this new edition, and his presence symbolizes a first step towards greater recognition of Black-American artists, eight years after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

Similar Posts