‘American Fiction’ Trailer: Jeffrey Wright Exploits Stereotypes of Black Life to Sell Books (Video)

“The dumber I behave, the richer I get,” the struggling author explains as his manufactured memoir becomes a best-seller

Fresh off winning the Audience Award at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, “American Fiction” lays out its cynically comic premise in its first trailer. Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut features Jeffrey Wright as a struggling novelist who watches as his competition profits from Black entertainment that plays into cultural stereotypes and offensive tropes to the huzzahs of white cultural gatekeepers. In a moment of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” he uses a pen name to write a conventionally stereotypical memoir only to watch the book become a cultural focal point and a best-seller.

It’s a corker of an idea, adapted from adapted from Percival Everett’s 2001 novel “Erasure.” It brings to mind the likes of Bobcat Goldthwait’s “World’s Greatest Dad” (featuring one of Robin Williams’ best onscreen comic performances) and Sam Levinson’s “Malcolm and Marie” (a two-hander starring John David Washington and Zendaya taking aim at what pundits and critics do or don’t want from so-called inclusive entertainment). The trailer suggests that the film pulls few punches.

'American Fiction'
‘American Fiction’

“Jewish people, you get ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Annie Hall,’” Jefferson declared while promoting the film at TIFF. “But a prestige Black film has always got to be civil rights or slavery or drug dealers.”

He’s… not wrong and frankly Will Packer has amassed a fortune over the last decade by producing a slew of old-school popcorn entertainments (“Think Like A Man,” “No Good Deed,” “The Wedding Ringer,” “Little,” “Girls Trip,” etc.) that just happened to feature Black actors in genres usually dominated by white performers. And yet, when it comes to awards season glory, it’s seemingly easier to be nominated for playing an escaped slave than playing two diametrically opposed versions of the same character in a critically acclaimed blockbuster horror movie.

TheWrap’s Steve Pond wrote in his review that “American Fiction” gives Jeffrey Wright “a spectacular showcase” and “runs on serious conversations that are never bogged down by being treated too seriously.” 14 of the last People’s Choice award winners at TIFF have gone on to receive a Best Picture nomination at that year’s Academy Awards. Five of them —  “Slumdog Millionaire, “The King’s Speech,” 12 Years a Slave,” “Green Book” and Nomadland” — won the top Oscar. Time will tell if the MGM/Orion release, opening theatrically on Dec. 15, will follow suit.

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