American Fiction
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCord Jefferson
Screenplay byCord Jefferson
Based onErasure
by Percival Everett
Produced by
  • Ben LeClair
  • Nikos Karamigios
  • Cord Jefferson
  • Jermaine Johnson
Starring
CinematographyCristina Dunlap
Edited byHilda Rasula
Music byLaura Karpman
Production
companies
Distributed byAmazon MGM Studios
Release dates
  • September 8, 2023 (2023-09-08) (TIFF)
  • December 15, 2023 (2023-12-15) (United States)
Running time
117 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$8 million[2][3]

American Fiction is a 2023 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Cord Jefferson, in his feature directorial debut. Based on the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett, the film follows a frustrated novelist-professor who writes an outlandishly stereotypical "black" book as satire, only for the book to be published to high sales and praise. It stars Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, and Keith David.

American Fiction premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2023, where it won the People's Choice Award. It received a limited theatrical release by Amazon MGM Studios on December 15, 2023, with an expansion on December 22, 2023. It received positive reviews from critics, with Wright's performance earning widespread acclaim.

It was named one of the top 10 films of 2023 by the American Film Institute and has received numerous accolades, including five nominations at the 96th Academy Awards, including Best Picture, two nominations at the 81st Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and won Best Adapted Screenplay at the 29th Critics' Choice Awards.

Plot

Thelonious "Monk" Ellison is a black writer and professor in Los Angeles. His novels receive academic praise, but sell poorly, and publishers reject his most recent manuscript for not being "black enough". His university places him on temporary leave due to his brashness with students over racial issues and suggests he attend a literary seminar in his hometown, Boston. At the seminar, Monk sees low attendance at his panel and a packed room for the panel of Sintara Golden, whose bestselling novel We's Lives in Da Ghetto seems to pander to black stereotypes.

In Boston, Monk bonds with his mother Agnes, who shows signs of Alzheimer's disease, and sister Lisa, a doctor. While having drinks with Monk, Lisa suffers a heart attack. She dies in the hospital.

Monk's estranged brother, Cliff, also a doctor, attends Lisa's funeral. Cliff is divorced after his wife caught him cheating with a man; he now abuses drugs and alcohol. Monk meets and starts dating Coraline, a lawyer living across the street.

Frustrated by Sintara's success and the costs of care for his mother, Monk writes My Pafology, an over-the-top drama full of violence and bad dialogue. He is offered a $750,000 advance, and his agent Arthur convinces him to adopt the persona of former convinct "Stagg R. Leigh". As "Stagg", Monk is offered a movie deal from producer Wiley. In response to insulting comments from publishing executives, Monk attempts to sabotage the deal by demanding the title be changed to Fuck. The executives agree. Monk is invited to judge the New England Book Association's The Literary Award in a "diversity push", and reluctantly accepts. One fellow judge is Sintara, who Monk is surprised to learn shares many of his views.

Agnes moves into an assisted-living facility, but adapts poorly. Cliff briefly returns to Boston, but leaves after Agnes makes a homophobic remark. Fuck becomes a bestseller. Coraline, Cliff, and the public remain unaware "Stagg" is Monk, and the FBI contacts the publisher, believing Stagg is a fugitive as he claimed in interviews. Monk is offended when he finds Coraline enjoyed Fuck. They argue and break up.

On family housekeeper Lorraine's wedding day, Monk finds Cliff living in Agnes's beach house with two other men: Cliff never left Boston, and has been partying and doing drugs. At the reception, Monk and Cliff discuss the legacy of their father after his suicide, and Cliff encourages Monk to let people "love all of him".

Monk's publisher submits Fuck for the literary award, forcing him to judge his own novel. The panel's white judges rave over Fuck, though Sintara calls the book "pandering". Monk agrees, but later argues that her book is "trauma porn" inauthentic to her middle-class background. Sintara argues that she extensively researched her book and is "giving the market what it wants", and that it isn't her fault if white readers form stereotypes based on one book.

At the award ceremony, Monk goes on stage after Fuck is announced as the winner and says he has a confession to make. The story is revealed to be Monk's screenplay based on his experiences, written for Wiley's production company as an alternative to the Fuck film adaptation. Monk has not revealed his identity to the public. Wiley likes the screenplay but asks Monk to write a different ending.

The film portrays different endings, including one in which police fatally shoot Monk at the ceremony. Wiley – also busy filming blaxploitation – loves it, and the film moves into production. Monk drives away with Cliff.

Cast

Production

On November 10, 2022, it was reported that Jeffrey Wright was cast in the untitled film, based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett. Cord Jefferson would adapt the novel and direct in his directorial debut.[4][5] T-Street Productions and MRC Film are producing the film. On December 2, 2022, it was announced that Tracee Ellis Ross will also star in film with Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Sterling K. Brown, Myra Lucretia Taylor, John Ortiz, Issa Rae, and Adam Brody also cast.[6] The film wrapped production in Boston in early December, with COVID-19 safety precautions used on set.[7] That month, MGM's Orion Pictures acquired the film's worldwide distribution rights.[8] In July 2023, with the announcement of its world premiere, the film's title was reported to be American Fiction.[9] It is the first film from Orion to be distributed through Amazon MGM Studios Distribution.[10]

Release

American Fiction premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2023, where it won the People's Choice Award.[9][11] This was followed by a run in the festival circuit, culminating in its United States premiere at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles on December 5, 2023.[12] It had a limited theatrical release in the United States on December 15, 2023, with an expansion the following week (December 22, 2023).[13] The film was initially set for a November 3, 2023 release date before changing to its current date.[14] The film is scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom and Ireland by Curzon Film on February 2, 2024.[15]

Reception

Box office

The film made $229,000 from seven theaters in its opening weekend, a per-venue average of $32,400.[16]

Critical response

Sterling K. Brown and Jeffrey Wright received critical acclaim for their performances as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison and Clifford "Cliff" Ellison, and earned Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor, respectively.

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 93% of 210 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's consensus reads: "Jeffrey Wright and American Fiction will forever be inextricable thanks to the actor's committed approach to the pointedly humorous and insightful material."[17] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 82 out of 100, based on 45 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18] Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film a 90% positive score, with 83% saying they would definitely recommend it.[16]

In her review for The Hollywood Reporter, Lovia Gyarke wrote that "American Fiction is smart and, thanks to its fine cast, has genuine heart", commending Wright's "subtle physicality […] that contributes depth to his character", as well as "Uggams' increasingly somber performance as Agnes and Brown’s delightful comedic turn".[19]

Filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood praised the film, saying "Your first film should tell the world who you are as an artist. With American Fiction, Cord Jefferson has screamed into a bullhorn. Bold, chaotic, unflinching, personal. Cord has channeled his creative truths into a searing indictment of biased norms. As artists of color, we recognize all of it. The best humor comes from truth, and he yields laughter as a weapon. Forces offenders to pay attention. To take a look at themselves. But Cord wants more. He wants the world to see our humanity. So he couples his blistering satire with a heartbreaking family drama. His collaboration with Jeffrey Wright is a triumph, giving the actor the words and space to create a performance that conquers that same tightrope. Cord is a writer/director and he wholly owns this vision. This is a first film that excites us all for what’s to come next."[20]

Accolades

Award Date of Ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref
Toronto International Film Festival September 17, 2023 People's Choice Award American Fiction Won [21]
Heartland International Film Festival October 15, 2023 Humor & Humanity Award Cord Jefferson Won
Mill Valley Film Festival October 16, 2023 U.S. Cinema Won[a] [22]
Breakthrough Directing Won
San Diego International Film Festival October 21, 2023 Best Gala Film American Fiction Won [23]
Middleburg Film Festival October 22, 2023 Audience Award for Narrative Film Won [24]
Celebration of Cinema & Television December 4, 2023 Visionary Award Jeffrey Wright Won [25]
Windsor International Film Festival October 29, 2023 LIUNA People's Choice Award American Fiction Runner-up [26]
Virginia Film Festival October 29, 2023 Programmers’ Award – Narrative Feature Won [27]
Breakthrough Director Award Cord Jefferson Won
Savannah Film Festival November 2, 2023 Audience Award American Fiction Runner-up [28]
Hollywood Music in Media Awards November 15, 2023 Original Score — Feature Film Laura Karpman Nominated [29]
Gotham Independent Film Awards November 27, 2023 Outstanding Lead Performance Jeffrey Wright Nominated [30]
American Film Institute Awards December 7, 2023 Top 10 Films of the Year American Fiction Won[b] [31]
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards December 10, 2023 Best Feature Won [32]
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Won
Best Ensemble American Fiction Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards December 10, 2023 Best Leading Performance Jeffrey Wright Runner-up [33]
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards December 10, 2023 Best New Filmmaker Cord Jefferson Runner-up[c] [34]
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards December 12, 2023 Milos Stehlik Award for Breakthrough Filmmaker Nominated [35]
New York Film Critics Online Awards December 15, 2023 Top 10 Films American Fiction Won[b] [36]
St. Louis Film Critics Association December 17, 2023 Best Film Nominated [37]
Best Comedy Film Nominated
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Runner-up
Toronto Film Critics Association December 17, 2023 Best First Feature American Fiction Runner-up[d] [38]
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association December 18, 2023 Top 10 Films of the Year 5th Place [39]
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright 4th Place
San Diego Film Critics Society December 19, 2023 Best Picture American Fiction Nominated [40]
Best Director Cord Jefferson Nominated
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Won
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson and Percival Everett Runner-up
Best First Feature Cord Jefferson Won
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 21, 2023 Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Nominated [41]
Best First Film Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists January 4, 2024 Best Film American Fiction Nominated [42]
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Screenplay, Adapted Cord Jefferson Won
Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director Jennifer Euston Won
Georgia Film Critics Association Awards January 5, 2024 Best Picture American Fiction Nominated [43]
[44]
Best Director Cord Jefferson Nominated
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Runner-up
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Runner-up
Best Ensemble American Fiction Nominated
Astra Film and Creative Arts Awards January 6, 2024 Best Picture Nominated [45]
Best Director Cord Jefferson Nominated
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Won
Best First Feature Nominated
February 26, 2024 Best Casting Jennifer Euston Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Awards January 6, 2024 Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Runner-up[e] [46]
Golden Globe Awards January 7, 2024 Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy American Fiction Nominated [47]
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Seattle Film Critics Society Awards January 8, 2024 Best Picture of the Year American Fiction Nominated [48]
Best Actor in a Leading Role Jeffrey Wright Won
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Screenplay Cord Jefferson Nominated
San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle Awards January 9, 2024 Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Won [49]
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Won
Austin Film Critics Association Awards January 10, 2024 Best Film American Fiction Nominated [50]
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Nominated
Best First Film American Fiction Nominated
Set Decorators Society of America Awards February 13, 2024 Best Achievement in Décor/Design of a Comedy or Musical Feature Film Kyra Friedman Curcio and Jonathan Guggenheim Pending [51]
Critics' Choice Movie Awards January 14, 2024 Best Picture American Fiction Nominated [52]
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Won
Best Comedy American Fiction Nominated
Black Reel Awards January 16, 2024 Outstanding Film Ben LeClair, Nikos Karamigios, Cord Jefferson & Jermaine Johnson Won [53]
Outstanding Director Cord Jefferson Won
Outstanding Lead Performance Jeffery Wright Won
Outstanding Supporting Performance Erika Alexander Nominated
Sterling K. Brown Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble Jennifer Euston Nominated
Outstanding Emerging Director Cord Jefferson Won
Outstanding Screenplay Won
Outstanding First Screenplay Won
AACTA International Awards February 10, 2024 Best Film American Fiction Pending [54]
Best Lead Actor in Film Jeffrey Wright Pending
Best Screenplay in Film Cord Jefferson Pending
Society of Composers & Lyricists February 13, 2024 Outstanding Original Score for a Studio Film Laura Karpman Pending [55]
Satellite Awards February 18, 2024 Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical American Fiction Pending [56]
Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical Jeffrey Wright Pending
Best Screenplay, Adapted Cord Jefferson and Percival Everett Pending
Best Original Score Laura Karpman Pending
Costume Designers Guild Awards February 21, 2024 Excellence in Contemporary Film Rudy Mance Pending [57]
Screen Actors Guild Awards February 24, 2024 Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Erika Alexander, Adam Brody, Sterling K. Brown, Keith David, John Ortiz, Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Leslie Uggams, Jeffrey Wright Pending [58]
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Jeffrey Wright Pending
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Sterling K. Brown Pending
Independent Spirit Awards February 25, 2024 Best Film Cord Jefferson, Jermaine Johnson, Nikos Karamigios, and Ben LeClair Pending [59]
Best Lead Performance Jeffrey Wright Pending
Best Supporting Performance Erika Alexander Pending
Sterling K. Brown Pending
Best Screenplay Cord Jefferson Pending
Academy Awards March 10, 2024 Best Picture Ben LeClair, Nikos Karamigios, Cord Jefferson, and Jermaine Johnson Pending [60]
Best Actor Jeffrey Wright Pending
Best Supporting Actor Sterling K. Brown Pending
Best Adapted Screenplay Cord Jefferson Pending
Best Original Score Laura Karpman Pending

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Shared with Rustin.
  2. ^ a b This award does not have a single winner, but recognizes multiple films.
  3. ^ Shared with A. V. Rockwell for A Thousand and One.
  4. ^ Shared with Past Lives.
  5. ^ Shared with Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer

References

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