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American Fiction–Truth or Dare

The 2024 Academy-Award nominated indie film, American Fiction,  directed by Cord Jefferson, is  based upon the 2001 novel, “Erasure”, by Percival Everett. Black novelist and literature professor Thelonious Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), nicknamed “Monk” (perhaps after the famous jazz musician) is incensed that his novels are not well-received by readers, both Black and White.  An academic specializing in Greek mythology and drama, his books are nonetheless shelved under African American literature in bookstores. 

Monk is an upper-class intellectual with a gay brother (Sterling K. Brown),–  once a successful doctor but now an addict,– a well-respected sister physician (Tracee Ross Ellis), and a mother (Leslie Uggams) with dementia. Monk obviously has personal challenges which impede his path as an author.   But overriding his family’s problems are the dictates of a publishing industry keen on having novels by Black authors ready for sale for the upcoming Juneteenth market. 

Monk is reluctantly sucked into the frenzied marketing of a Black novel by a Black author by his agent, who sees    a huge market of  White readers who will rush to feel good, albeit perhaps a bit conscience-stricken. Monk jokingly creates a novel,  “My Pafology”, that delights in every stereotype and meme of race..  Using a pen name partly out of embarrassment and shame for claiming his  trashy novel is a  real autobiographical account, Monk is appalled to learn of My Pafology’s potential for resounding success, rumors of being an awards contender, and a seven-figure advance.  

At times a brilliant send-up of the crass, capitalistic follow-the-crowd tastes in publishing, American Fiction is a furious satire on publishing Black novels for  White customers.  At one point Monk bemoans the fact that the most popular Black authors write about slavery, racism, and/or prison.  As the author, Percival Ellison, emphasizes: Erasure is ignoring the history of people’s lives as individuals, trivializing and distorting, intentionally or not, what their representation actually is. 

Pacing can be somewhat slow–for example, with the Monk’s love interest, or with the lengthy scenes involving his mother and brother.  I also found some of the characterization of the gay brother and his friends  stereotypical and totally unacceptable.

Nonetheless, truth or dare–American Fiction is highly original, daring, and honestl.  A must-watch!

Availability:  In theaters now.  Possibly Amazon Prime and MGM in the future

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