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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'American Fiction': An Incisive Comedy-Drama About a Novelist Compelled Into Duplicity and Subterfuge

Movie poster for American Fiction

American Fiction (2023) is a unique and incisive comedy-drama starring Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, a novelist-professor frustrated by his lack of literary success. Spurred on by his agent Arthur (John Ortiz) to embrace the publishing industry's exploitation of racial stereotypes, Monk fabricates a cliché-ridden memoir entitled "My Pafology", only to see the book gain enormous success.

Forced to embody his alter-ego, Stagg R. Leigh, to the media, Monk struggles to reconcile his disdain for the superficial with the acclaim suddenly heaped upon him. Surrounded by sycophants and facing unforseen consequences of his deception, he grapples with the dilemma of profiting from a work he created as a parody—all while his "true" novels remain languishing in obscurity. His personal life suffers simultaneously, including relations with his mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams), sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) and brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown), as the lines between Monk and Leigh blur and public scrutiny pushes him to a point of ultimate reckoning.

Based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett and directed by first-time filmmaker Cord Jefferson, American Fiction is a darkly comedic exploration of race, art and the complexities of individuality. Wright perfectly embodies his two identities in a dual role he seems born to play, seamlessly balancing the disparity between Monk's world-weary intellect and Leigh's exaggerated histrionics. Remarkably savvy and perceptive throughout, Jefferson's film borders on outlandishness at times, yet remains wonderfully compelling every step of the way.


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