“American Fiction” deconstructs racial stereotypes on the small screen


Nominated five times for the Oscars (notably for best film), Cord Jefferson’s first feature film was put online more than discreetly by Prime Video on February 27. The Amazon subsidiary would, however, have many reasons to boast of showing American Fiction , an acerbic and disturbing comedy which also knows, when necessary, slipping into the familiar forms of family drama, especially since it has was produced by the studio that Jeff Bezos’ multinational acquired, MGM.

The important thing is that the film is within reach of the remote control, and that we can immediately venture into the existential labyrinth into which Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) got lost. Writer, academic, from the African-American bourgeoisie of Boston, “Monk” stands out in the repertoire of jobs that American cinema usually assigns to blacks. It is around this singularity that Cord Jefferson, until now screenwriter of series, and not just any series ( Watchmen , The Good Place ), built his screenplay, adapted from the novel Effacement , by Percival Everett (Actes Sud, 2004 ).

Published but little-read novelist (he often draws inspiration from Greco-Roman literature), professor of literature at a university on the West Coast, “Monk” comes up against students who are picky about vocabulary and “traumawarning” (message preliminary to indicate content that may be shocking). When their teacher writes in full on the board the title of a short story by Flannery O’Connor translated into French under the title Le Nègre factice (1955), the university management advises “Monk” to take advantage of a conference literary in Boston to pay a long visit to his family, whom he claims to hate.

In perpetual revolt

Focused on satire (Jeffrey Wright, master of understatement, extracts every last atom of comedy from each of the insults suffered by his character), the first sequences outline the social and intellectual framework in which the protagonist moves: in perpetual revolt against the expectations that institutions and private companies impose on him (you have to see him carrying armloads of his books to remove them from the “African-American studies” section of a bookstore), “Monk” otherwise remains incapable of settling an itinerary, preferring to rush into intellectual and professional dead ends.

Resuming contact with his family drags the film down. It is no longer up to the character to go against stereotypes, but up to the script. The Ellison family, a medical dynasty (Monk’s brother and sister are doctors), lives in a large villa under the care of a big-hearted maid. She also lives in the memory of her father’s suicide and in fear of the future – her widow is showing the first symptoms of senile dementia.

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