Cord Jefferson Welcomes ‘American Fiction’ Debate


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At least that’s the stance I took in the friendly debate I got in with one of my colleagues after American Fiction’s premiere screening at TIFF. This friend, also a Black media professional, texted me halfway through to say that he was loving it. By the end, he hated it. He didn’t like how certain moments depicting very real racism were played for laughs; he felt it was the work of a bougie Black person disconnected from reality (an apt description of the character Monk). On another street corner a couple days later, I got into it with two more of my colleagues, both also Black critics, who liked the film but had some notes. One, a man, said he didn’t love that the white characters felt so obnoxiously racist that white audiences would be able to absolve themselves from any association to the kind of white liberal bigotry they continually participate in. The other, a woman, disagreed and thought the absurdity of white ignorance was spot on (I was on her side), and that if white execs only want us to write “about Black shit,” then fine. Why shouldn’t we? While I agree (I do write for a Black publication afterall), to me, it’s the white people in power deciding what “Black shit” is that’s the problem. They’re stripping certain creators of choices that others have an abundance of. The one thing we could all agree on, though, was that American Fiction — like Bamboozled before it — illuminated discussions we’ve been confronting our whole careers. It made us think, and at times, it made us laugh, and ultimately, it made us realize that we were going to be entrenched in this conversation on our timelines for months after the movie’s release. 

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