SDIFF 2023 presents American Fiction

Ain't none o ya'll black enough!

Reviewed by: Alicia Glass
Published on: June 7, 2024

Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Frustrated by the reduction of black authors to base stereotype tropes, writer Monk creates a “black enough” author persona, only to find himself instantly popular for all the wrong reasons!

So Thelonius Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) never much cared for his name, he prefers to be called Monk, and they never really give a why or where it came from. But the name Thelonius is on every single last book Monk has published, and there has been a few, which of course no one seems to read, because they’re, it seems to Monk anyway, not “black enough”. Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), a fellow author, for example, writes from a very rough, very ghetto-like setting and style, and the popularity of her dropped ends of words and perpetual plaintive swearing is driving Monk utterly mad.

And we get it, Monk, we really do. Though the movie is primarily from a black perspective, every race on the planet has had to endure times when they are ashamed of those who happen to share the color of their skins. Some more often than others, but this shame and embarrassment is a universal trope rarely so deftly, so cleverly explored.

Whether it’s an unpaid leave of absence or a forced vacation whatever, Monk is sent the last place he wants to go – back home to his family. Momma Agnes (Leslie Uggams) is starting to succumb to the Alzheimers, brother Cliff (Sterling K. Brown) is in the midst of a messy divorce for interesting reasons, the family housekeeper and caretaker Lorraine (Myra Lucretia Taylor) can’t manage all that’s going on alone, and sister Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross) could use some help with all this nonsense.

We like sister Lisa, her sense of humor and take-no-sh*t attitude to the world seems to be the only one in the family that Monk can stand. Which makes it so much worse, when Lisa, right in the midst of a sentence, suffers a horrific heart attack and passes on quite suddenly. Now Monk really is stuck at home, to help arrange and attend Lisas funeral. Damnit.

In the midst of all of this, Monk makes friends and then better-friends if you catch my drift, with the amiable neighbor Coraline (Erika Alexander), someone with whom Monk enjoys being a relaxed, unweighted version of his real self. Which makes what Monk does next, and not telling Coraline about it, so utterly poignant and adorable and just sad.

In a fit of absolute enraged pique Monk proceeds to succumb to the one thing he’d be struggling against this entire time – using his assumed ethnic blackness to write a book in the style everyone seems to want, which inevitably zooms through popularity like Kanye on crack. Oh yeah, poor beleaguered Monk is now a walking irony to his whole life, and the bleak humor isn’t lost on him.

But life continues on apace, and much to Monks chagrin he has to continue with his stagnant writing career via the internet, dubiously getting nominated to be a judge for this years New England Book Association’s annual Literary Award, a highly coveted prize. And Monk’s oh so ethnic book, no matter what provocative title he wants to give it, is about to get nominated for the same said prize he’s currently going through piles of books as a judge for.

The walls are closing in, the freaking FBI is now looking for the fugitive Stagg R. Leigh, and it all comes down to Monk’s realization that he must be the one to decide what he wants his own ending to be like. Reality really sometimes is indeed, stranger than fiction.

Get blaxploited with Monk and pals in American Fiction, out on Amazon Prime now!