‘American Fiction’ Cast and Character Guide: Who Cord Jefferson Handpicked to Star in the Film

In the satirical comedy, Jeffrey Wright plays a frustrated novelist whose big break comes when he pens a book that exploits Black stereotypes

"American Fiction" (Orion/MGM Studios)
Erika Alexander and Jeffrey Wright in "American Fiction" (Credit: Orion/MGM Studios)

“American Fiction” hit select theaters on Friday following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8. Since then, the film and its star-studded cast have been bringing in waves of acclaim from Hollywood.

Cord Jefferson’s feature directorial debut “American Fiction” is a satirical comedy that tells the story of a frustrated novelist named Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) who ends up finally finding success in his career when he writes a book that perpetuates Black stereotypes.

The film is based on Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure,” and the idea to adapt the literary piece came to Jefferson in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

“I had a really huge professional failing in 2020, where this TV show that I thought was going to get on the air and was confident would go got killed at the last minute,” Jefferson, a former journalist, told TheWrap awards editor Steve Pond during a panel discussion for TheWrap screenings.

Jefferson began reading through his professional uncertainty and came upon “Erasure.”

“Three months before I found ‘Erasure,’ I had received a note on a script from an executive who told me that I needed to make a character ‘Blacker,’ and it came through an emissary,” Jefferson said. “This executive was afraid to tell me this to my face, and I said to the emissary, ‘I will indulge that note, as long as this person sits in front of me and tells me what it means to be ‘Blacker.’ And the note went away.”

After a long road pitching to several Hollywood studios and production companies, signing a request letter to Jeffrey Wright to star in the film and filling out his cast with heavy-hitting talent, including Tracee Ellis Ross, Sterling K. Brown and Erika Alexander, his movie has received immense acclaim — all ahead of its release.

Here’s everything you need to know about the cast and where you’ve seen them before.

Jeffrey Wright as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison @jfreewright

Jeffrey Wright in "American Fiction" (Orion)
Jeffrey Wright in “American Fiction” (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)

Jeffrey Wright plays Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, an irritable novelist whose working as a professor as he waits for his big break. In the midst of his professional woes, he moves back home and begins caring for his ill mother, Agnes Ellison (Leslie Uggams). After enduring a family loss and growing more frustrated by his failed career, he pens a book that exploits Black stereotypes, replicating a formula that he noticed has worked for other Black writers, like Sintara Golden (Issa Rae). To his surprise, and against his moral values, the book becomes his most successful literary work.

Wright’s career spans over two decades. One his standout performances was playing Jean-Michel Basquiat in the 1996 film “Basquiat.” Through the years, he’s starred “The Batman,” “Shaft,” “Cadillac Records,” “Rustin” and more.

Tracee Ellis Ross as Lisa Ellison @traceeellisross

Tracee Ellis Ross in "American Fiction" (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)
Tracee Ellis Ross in “American Fiction” (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)

Tracee Ellis Ross plays Monk’s loving sister Lisa Ellison. She’s a Planned Parenthood doctor, who is recently divorced and has been serving as the caretaker of her mother, Agnes Ellison (Leslie Uggams).

Ellis Ross is best known for her long-running roles on “Girlfriends” and “Black-ish.” The actress has been seen in several hit shows and films, including “The High Note,” “Little” and the new Christmas film “Candy Cane Lane” opposite Eddie Murphy. She is the daughter of Diana Ross.

Sterling K. Brown as Clifford Ellison @sterlingkbrown

Sterling K. Brown in "American Fiction" (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)
Sterling K. Brown in “American Fiction” (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)

Sterling K. Brown stars as Clifford Ellison, Monk’s newly-divorced brother who recently has came out as gay. As he explores his sexuality with a variety of lovers, drugs and emotional outbursts toward his family, he helps Monk realize his worth outside of his writing profession even if he makes a joke out of it once or twice.

Brown’s career experienced a sonic boom with his widely acclaimed performance on NBC’s hit series “This Is Us.” He’s gone on to star in “Honk for Jesus Save Your Soul,” “Frozen II,” “Waves” and more.

Erika Alexander as Coraline @erikaalexanderthegreat

Erika Alexander in "American Ficiton" (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)
Erika Alexander in “American Ficiton” (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)

Erika Alexander is Coraline, a defense attorney and Monk’s neighbor who eventually catches his eye romantically. As Monk works through the frustrations of his personal life, Coraline stands by his side for him to lean on. However, she won’t allow his angry outbursts to tumble her over.

Of course, everyone knows Alexander for her knockout role as Maxine Shaw in the Fox sitcom “Living Single.” She’s also starred in “Run the World,” “American Refuge,” “Mama Flora’s Family” and more.

John Ortiz as Arthur @johnortiz718

John Ortiz in "American Fiction" (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)
John Ortiz in “American Fiction” (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)

John Ortiz plays Monk’s literary agent Arthur, who’s been trying his hardest to sell one of his books. When Monk writes a book that conflicts with his moral values but ends up raking in a multimillion-dollar deal, Arthur convinces Monk to take a chance and allow the deal to help him with his financial hardship.

From “Carlito’s Way,” “Miami Vice” and more, Ortiz’s acting career has spanned over 30 years. Some of his other performances were in “Promised Land,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Fast & Furious.”

Leslie Uggams as Agnes Ellison @leslieuggams1

Leslie Uggams in "American Fiction" (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)
Leslie Uggams in “American Fiction” (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)

Actress and singer Leslie Uggams is the mother of Monk in “American Fiction,” Agnes Ellison. She’s a bit judgmental of his three children, but her love overflows for them despite her snarky remarks. As her memory begins to fade, Monk steps in as her caretaker following a family loss.

Uggams’ first screen credits date back to the early 1960s — her standout role as Kizzy Reynolds in the 1977 TV miniseries “Roots” earned her a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination. Since then, she’s performed in iconic Hollywood films and shows including “Poor Pretty Eddie,” “Backstairs at the White House,” the “Deadpool” franchise and she was the host of her own variety show “The Leslie Uggams Show” in 1969.

Issa Rae as Sintara Golden @issarae

Issa Rae  in "American Fiction" (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)
Issa Rae in “American Fiction” (Orion/Amazon MGM Studios)

Writer, actress, producer and businesswoman Issa Rae plays Sintara Golden, a fellow novelist and the bane of Monk’s existence. Her book “We’s Lives in da Ghetto” is praised as “authentic” and “raw,” despite its arguably distasteful portrayal of Black narratives.

Rae’s resume is packed. She is the creator and star of the hit HBO series “Insecure,” and she created Max’s scripted female rap comedy “Rap Sh!t.” Some of her other roles were in “Little,” “Barbie” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

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