American Fiction (2023)

Film and Plot Synopsis

Cord Jefferson’s hilarious directorial debut confronts our culture’s obsession with reducing people to outrageous stereotypes. Jeffrey Wright stars as Monk, a frustrated novelist who is fed up with the establishment profiting from “Black” entertainment that relies on tired and offensive tropes. To prove his point, Monk uses a pen name to write his own outlandish “Black” book–that propels him into the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain. (Courtesy of MGM/Orion Pictures)

‘American Fiction’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
American Fiction (2023)Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a frustrated literature professor in Los Angeles. In addition to his teaching, Monk is a writer who is having trouble getting his next book published because publishers believe that it is not “black enough.” As an African American novelist, his books are heavily praised but sell poorly. After a confrontation with a white student in his class, his university places him on temporary leave and suggests that he attend a literary seminar in Boston, Monk’s hometown. At the seminar, Monk is disappointed in the attendance to his panel, but is shocked to see a crowd pack a room for author Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), the writer of the bestselling novel We’s Lives in Da Ghetto. Although he has not read the book, Monk believes that Sintara’s book panders to black stereotypes.

While in Boston, Monk visits with his aging mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams) and his sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), who is a doctor. Lisa has taken care of her and Monk’s mother for years as she suffers with Alzheimer’s disease, while Monk and his brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown), a plastic surgeon, have lived their own lives out West. Lisa and Monk go out for drinks, and Lisa suffers a fatal heart attack. Monk is left to care for his mother with only the help of his mother’s housekeeper, Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor), to get him by. Cliff returns to Boston for Lisa’s funeral. Cliff informs Monk that he cannot help with their mother as he has a drug problem, and he has recently gone through a divorce after his wife caught him cheating on her with another man. Monk also begins dating Coraline (Erika Alexander), a lawyer who lives across the street from Agnes’ beach house.

The suspension, his mother’s rising medical bills, and his lack of literary success cause Monk to write My Pafology, a satirical novel mocking the literary clichés that white readers expect from black writers. As a lark, Monk asks his agent, Arthur (John Ortiz), to shop it around to publishers, not expecting anyone to take the book seriously. However, Monk is shocked when he is offered a $750,000 advance for the book. Arthur convinces Monk to adopt the alias of Stagg R. Leigh, a fictional former convict who is avoiding apprehension by law enforcement. Monk is more disturbed when a Hollywood producer, Wiley (Adam Brody), offers him $4 million to make the film version of My Pafology. Monk is dumbfounded by everyone’s response to the book. When the publishing executives carelessly make insulting comments to Monk during a phone call, Mony insists on changing the title of the book to Fuck. Monk is once again shocked when the publishers agree to the title change, despite the difficulty that they will have in marketing it.

Potential is what people see when what’s in front of them isn’t good enough. Sintara Golden (Issa Rae)

Not long after, Monk is invited to become a judge on the New England Book Association’s Literary Award when they are criticized for a lack of diversity on the judicial panels. Monk reluctantly accepts, and he is surprised to learn that Sintara is a fellow judge. The two novelists talk, and Monk is surprised to learn that Sintara shares many of his views on African American literature despite her novel.

With the injection of money, Monk places his mother into an assisted-living facility. However, Agnes adapts poorly to the new living situation. Cliff returns to Boston to visit, but Agnes makes a homophobic remark towards him, and he leaves again. Fuck is released and becomes an instant bestseller. Everyone in Monk’s life, other than Arthur, is unaware of Monk’s dual identity. Everyone around him begins discussing Fuck and how much they like it, which frustrates Monk since he intended the novel to be joke and a comment on racism. Monk provokes a fight with Coraline after she indicates that she liked the novel, causing the two of them to break up.

On Lorraine’s wedding day, Monk finds Cliff living in Agnes’ beach house with two men. Cliff confesses that he never left Boston and has been hiding in the beach house and using drugs. Kindhearted Lorraine welcomes him to stay for the wedding, although Monk is angry with his brother. At the reception, Monk and Cliff discuss the impact of their philandering father’s suicide years before. Cliff indicates that Monk is much like their father and encourages Monk to let people “love all of him.”

Unbeknownst to Monk, Arthur submits Fuck for literary awards, and the book is a last-minute nominee for the New England Book Association award. The white judges on the panel gush over Fuck and suggest that it should be the year’s winner. Sintara calls the novel pandering, which Monk concurs with. Separately, Monk argues with Sintara that Fuck is not drastically different from her novel which he believes is inauthentic to her African American middle-class background, referring to the book as “trauma porn.” Sintara takes offense to the criticism and argues that her book was extensively researched by interviewing voiceless people. Sintara also contends that she cannot be blamed for giving the market what it wants and that it is not her fault if white readers formed stereotypes from her book. Ultimately, Monk and Sintara are outvoted, and Fuck is chosen as the winner.

At the award ceremony, Fuck is officially announced as the winner. Monk goes onstage and says he has a confession to make. The screen cuts to black, and the story is revealed to be a scene from Monk’s new screenplay based on his experiences. The story was written for Wiley’s production company to make rather than an adaptation of Fuck. In the real world, Monk has not revealed his identity to the public at large and is still separated from Coraline. Wiley likes the screenplay but insists that Monk needs to write a new ending to the story.

Monk proposes an ending where he runs away from the ceremony to apologize to his ex-girlfriend. However, Wiley dislikes that ending as well. Mony then suggests an ending where police burst into the awards ceremony and mistakenly gun down Monk who is holding the award, believing him to be the fugitive Stagg R. Leigh. Wiley, who is also producing the blaxploitation film Plantation Annihilation, loves the new, energetic ending, much to Monk’s dismay. The film moves forward with production. The film ends with Monk and Cliff driving away from the studio together.

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MGM/Orion Pictures released American Fiction on December 15, 2023. Cord Jefferson directed the film starring Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, and John Ortiz.

User Rating: 4.55 ( 3 votes)
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