Saturday, February 10, 2024

American Fiction

"Invisible Man" by Kerry James Marshall

Cord Jefferson's American Fiction is The Producers. Writing what he thinks to be an angry send-up of black profiling and white guilt, a latter-day Ralph Ellison named no less than Thelonius ends up with a hit. Fuck is the title and the pseudonymous writer (Stagger Leigh) appears only in “black silhouette” (an uncanny allusion to Kerry James Marshall's "Invisible Man") since he’s a fugitive who, of course, speaks an intentionally hyperbolized form of Ebonics--perfected in a fit of pique. American Fiction is a symphony in stereotypes, sometimes overly arch (how to respond to a character named Thelonius Ellison?) at others disturbingly effective and all predicated on what neurologists call Imposter or Capgras Syndrome. The film is based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett, whose title itself recalls Invisible Man. Monk ultimately derives from a storied history of dramatic imposters going back to Moliere’s Tartuffe. But American Fiction also wobbles between parody and pathos. It’s a family drama dealing with Alzheimer’s, closeting and infidelity. However, the discordant tone is, in the end, oddly effective. The plot of American Fiction, like the movie within the movie (a la Synecdoche NY), is labile, volatile and angry. After all, face it,  the movie’s sophisticated audience is receiving a slap in the face.

Many thanks to Hallie Cohen for the connections and citations she provided for this piece.

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