“American Fiction” actors Jeffrey Wright and Sterling K. Brown and director Cord Jefferson hope the film’s five Oscar nominations and its enthusiastic reception will help shift attitudes in Hollywood.
Written by Jefferson, the comedy drama is based on Percival Everett’s 2001 book “Erasure”. It centres on Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, a professor and writer who is having no luck in publishing a new literary novel. But then he jokingly writes an outrageously stereotypical “Black” book out of spite — and it becomes an instant success.
The film also had a successful launch, winning the People’s Choice Award last September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it made its debut. It is up for best film and best adapted screenplay Academy Awards, and Wright and Brown are nominated for best actor and best supporting actor Oscars.
Composer Laura Karpman’s score also received an Oscar nod.
But getting the project off the ground was a challenge, said Jefferson, who makes his directorial debut with the movie.
“A lot of people didn’t want to finance it. We fortunately found wonderful partners who were able to make the movie with us, but most people we sent the movie to did not want anything to do with it,” said Jefferson, whose writing credits include TV’s ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Good Place’.
“Hopefully this will be a lesson, this will serve as sort of an example for Hollywood in the future when they’re nervous about funding something that’s a little bit different,” Jefferson, 42, said.
The movie uses humour to tackle themes of race, family trauma, loss and acceptance. Thelonious Ellison and his family battle their own issues while reckoning with the expectations placed on them as a Black family in America.
Ellison’s experiences resonated with Wright. But while the actor said he didn’t find what the character goes through rare, seeing his journey portrayed on screen was less common.
“That’s what the film is partly about, is that there’s a whole range of experiences, Black experiences that are outside of the narrow confines of what we’re often fed,” he said.
“Let’s recognise the breadth of the range of the Black experience, and we may find that, you know, it’s just like any other experience.