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The Dichotomous Vibes Of American Fiction

Have you ever heard of the Doll Test?

In 1940s, Dr. Mamie Clark and Dr. Kenneth Clark were the first African-American woman and man to earn psychology Ph.Ds from Colombia University. Their groundbreaking work examined the effects of segregation, poverty, and Jim Crow laws on children.

Their experiments were quite simple. They used dolls — all the same except for their skin and hair color — and asked the children participating (all Black, all between the ages of three and seven) which doll they liked best. Most of them chose the White doll.

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As one can imagine, the implications of this go beyond culture, justice, and many more societal problems. It’s kind of the basis of American Fiction, the new film based on the novel, Erasure, by Percival Everett.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you can tell the themes swirling about this film are of contradictions, identity and problematic portrayals. It’s angry and painful, and complicated yet graspable. It’s the debut film for director Cord Jefferson, a former TV writer who has made his name with titles like Master of NoneThe Good PlaceStation Eleven and the HBO series Watchmen for which he won an Emmy. (His backstory is pretty magnetic and if you want a magical read about fancy Vegas food, check out this feature he did for Eater back in October.)

MGM Orion Pictures

All of this is to say that for all of the fresh energy Jefferson brings to the table, the actors in his American Fiction adaptation (yes, he wrote the film too) are seasoned veterans. The ensemble cast — Jeffery Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Sterling K. Brown, Myra Lucretia Taylor, John Ortiz, Issa Rae and Adam Brody — gives breadth to the dualism presented throughout the story.

Protagonist Monk (played by Wright) is an author and college professor but adopts a nom de plume, Stagg R. Leigh who writes a fantastical parody called “My Pafology.” Issa Rae portrays another Black author who garners acclaim writing about the experiences of inner-city women despite her middle-class background. Sterling K. Brown plays Monk’s younger gay brother.

Reviews have been favorable so far. American Fiction has also been nominated for two Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actor for Jeffery Wright), and five Critics Choice Movie Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for Sterling K. Brown.

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American Fiction opened in limited release last Friday but opens nationwide on Friday, December 22, 2023. It’s rumored to stream sometime within the next month.

Buy Tickets Here

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