‘American Fiction’ film takes characters beyond stereotypes to true selves



December 13, 2023 – 11:39 PM PST

The 76th Cannes Film Festival - Photocall for the film "Asteroid City" in competition - Cannes, France, May 24, 2023. Cast member Jeffrey Wright poses. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/File Photo
The 76th Cannes Film Festival – Photocall for the film “Asteroid City” in competition – Cannes, France, May 24, 2023. Cast member Jeffrey Wright poses. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/File Photo

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Actor Jeffrey Wright wants audiences to know the comedy-drama film “American Fiction” is meant to capture the “humanness” of its characters as they work to be seen for who they are, rather than how others perceive them to be.

“He wants to be true to himself and his interests and his inclination,” Wright said about his character, Thelonious “Monk” Ellison.

“American Fiction,” directed by Cord Jefferson and based on the 2001 novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett, focuses on Thelonious, a professor and novelist who is having no luck in publishing a book based on his personal interests. But then he jokingly writes an outrageously stereotypical “Black” book out of frustration, which becomes an instant success.

“American Fiction,” distributed by Amazon MGM Studios, arrives in select theaters on Dec. 15 with a wider release on Dec. 22. It takes on themes of family trauma, loss and acceptance.

Wright this week received a best actor Golden Globe nomination for the role. The film also stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Sterling K. Brown as Thelonious’ sister and brother, Lisa Ellison and Clifford Ellison, Issa Rae as the author Sintara Golden, and Erika Alexander as Thelonious’ girlfriend, Coraline.

Throughout the film, Thelonious and his family must battle their own issues while reckoning with the expectations placed upon them as a Black family in the United States.

“I think he (Thelonious) desires to be free, intellectually, creatively, professionally,” Wright said.

For the Golden Globe award-winning actor, it is important for people to understand that this is not a story about Thelonious having an “identity crisis,” but rather him trying to cope with the way people view him as a Black man in society.

That desire to be authentically seen is not reflected only in Thelonious, but also in his brother, Clifford, whose recent openly gay lifestyle led his wife to leave him and caused estrangement with his children.

“I think in the middle of his life, he’s at a place where he has spent the majority of it trying to play the game by other people’s rules for him, and he realizes that doesn’t work for him,” Brown said about Clifford.

Reflecting on her role as Thelonious’ girlfriend, Alexander felt her character had a unique vantage point to see both the inner turmoil and strengths of the Ellison family.

“I think she understands that she’s invited to a place that’s very fragile,” Alexander said.

She views her character – as one of the few people “invited in” to the family and able see them for who they truly are – as vital to the story.

Reporting by Danielle Broadway and Rollo Ross in Los Angeles Editing by Mary Milliken and Matthew Lewis