Nothing is black and white in American Fiction. The sympathetic, flawed characters in writer-director Cord Jefferson’s Oscar-nominated study of the creative process are elegantly sketched in shades of grey.
That includes Jeffrey Wright’s frustrated college professor Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, who bristles with indignation at feedback from white liberal publishers that his books are not “black enough”. He angrily churns out a meritless manuscript crammed with garish racial stereotypes entitled My Pafology under the pen name of ex-con fugitive Stagg R Leigh.
Intended as a joke, the book attracts an eye-watering $750,000 offer from one publishing house. “It’s the most lucrative joke you’ve ever told,” whoops Monk’s agent (John Ortiz).
Based on the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett, the laughs are abundant in Jefferson’s hilarious and heartfelt picture, which has garnered five Oscar nominations.
Wright visibly relishes the sparkling dialogue, epitomised by an argument with a rival college lecturer, who boasts that he has penned three books in quick succession.
“The speed with which you write only proves that good things take time,” Monk responds dryly.
Fellow Oscar nominee Sterling K Brown doesn’t rush his compelling portrayal of Monk’s estranged brother, a plastic surgeon embracing his sexual identity.
“This family’ll break your heart!” he warns Monk’s girlfriend. He speaks the truth.