The Oscar nominee wading into the US culture wars

American Fiction “echoes this thread of discourse around black cultural production that has been ebbing and flowing and undulating for many years,” Dr Michele Prettyman, assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, tells BBC Culture. In doing so, she says, “it’s emblematic of a profoundly creative impulse that we’re seeing in black culture, in the US and globally; to me, that’s part of the story.”

The title American Fiction was partly inspired by Jefferson reading Langston Hughes’ poem Let America Be America Again, he told the Script Apart podcast, while he also saw in it the potential for multiple interpretations. “There’s a good history of movies with America in the title,” he said. “It’s a bookstore pun, a publishing pun, but underneath that, to me, race is this subject that is ripe for comedy and humour.” And for Everett, a fiction in and of itself.

“Race is a bogus category, biologically,” the author and distinguished professor of English at the University of Southern California tells BBC Culture. “Culturally, it’s a construction that has affected everyone. The best we can do as human beings living with this construction that will not be abandoned is to make it fair and to understand that it’s a shifting hierarchy of beliefs that are always imposed by an oppressor.”

The dilemma of black artists

In Erasure and American Fiction’s case, the main oppressor is white liberal publishers. In an early scene of the film, Wright’s Ellison finds out his latest manuscript – an adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Persians – has been passed on because it’s not “black” enough. Monk is bemused; he sees himself as a writer who happens to be black, not a “black writer”, à la the publishing industry’s reductive labels. Monk is from a middle-class African-American family of doctors, and has enjoyed an intellectual, suburban upbringing and expensive education.

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