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‘American Fiction’ is a scathing satire that challenges pop-culture stereotypes of Blackness

The lead character of the new movie American Fiction is Monk. He’s a Black man but never feels ‘Black’ enough: he graduated from Harvard, his siblings are doctors, he doesn’t play basketball and he writes literary novels.

Directed and written by former journalist Cord Jefferson, American Fiction won this year’s People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it has its much anticipated North American release in theatres last month. It’s been called an “incisive literary satire” by the Guardian.

The film, starring Jeffrey Wright, is an adaption of the 2001 novel "Erasure" by Percival Everett. The book and the film are centered on Monk, a novelist who’s fed up with a white-led publishing industry that profits from Black entertainment and tired tropes. As a Black man who thinks about race but also rages against having to talk about it, Monk gets so frustrated that he decides to poke fun of those who uncritically consume what they are sold as “Black culture.”

He uses a pen name to write an outlandish “Black” book of his own. It’s about “thug life” and is called “My Pafology.” But plot twist: his attempt at satire is lost on his audience and the book ends up becoming wildly successful. Suddenly, Monk is among those profiting off the stereotypes he so despises. The rest of the story explores “the unfairness of asking individual artists to represent the entire Black experience.”

In an episode of "Don’t Call Me Resilient," Prof. Vershawn Ashanti Young of University of Waterloo and Prof. Anthony Stewart of Bucknell University join forces to break down the many layers of Monk’s story and why Black stereotypes remain so persistent in pop culture. Listen to their conversation on BHN Radio.


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