the tale of the princess kaguya (isao takahata, 2013)
music friday: 1978

geezer cinema/african-american directors series: american fiction (cord jefferson, 2023)

American Fiction is based on Erasure, a novel by Percival Everett, and it's a model of how to adapt a novel to a film while retaining what makes the book interesting in the first place. It tells the story of Thelonious Ellison, nicknamed Monk (played by Jeffrey Wright), an African-American novelist and professor whose novels, which are heavily academic, don't get much of an audience from the readers who buy books. His agent says Monk needs to write books that are "more black", which Monk rejects out of hand. But when a new novel titled We's Lives in Da Ghetto, steeped in stereotypes (and thus "more black"), becomes an enormous best-seller, Monk decides to write a parody, which he calls My Pafology. A publisher gives him an enormous advance for the rights to the novel, after which a film producer offers even more money for the film rights before the book has even been published.

A crucial scene in the film occurs when Monk begins writing My Pafology (which becomes Fuck). Writer/director Cord Jefferson illuminates the scene from the book by having two of the characters (played brilliantly by Keith David and Okieriete Onaodowan) act out what Monk is writing, pausing occasionally to ask Monk just what he wants them to say. It's crucial, because it adds an honest, serious level to what is a mocking representation of stereotypes. One of the problems I had with the book is that Percival Everett includes the entirety of My Pafology, and he's far too good at it ... the book is as bad as it is supposed to be, and thus it's a burden to get through. Jefferson steps beyond the badness. (It helps that the book is only a few minutes in the movie, rather than ten chapters of a book.)

The characters, in general, are a bit nicer in the film. Issa Rae as the author of We's Lives in Da Ghetto gives the character substance ... she's not just a pulp writer out for a buck. And Myra Lucretia Taylor's family housekeeper Lorraine has a good relationship with Monk, whereas in the book, she doesn't much like him. Also, the relationship between Monk and his sister, Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), which has a barbed feel in the novel, is more congenial as played by Wright and Ross, without losing an edge.

The film has received five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay. I think it would be a worthy winner for Best Picture ... of the nominated films, I'd choose Anatomy of a Fall, and I'm on record as thinking the un-nominated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the best picture of the year, but American Fiction is very good. (Since I last listed my Top Ten of 2023, American Fiction has made the list, replacing Maestro, Barbie has moved up, and I changed the order of a few others.) Of the other categories, I've seen 4 of 5 Best Actors and think Jeffrey Wright is the best of those, I've seen all 5 Supporting Actors and would place Sterling K. Brown at or near the top, and I've seen all 5 Adapted Screenplays, and would vote for Barbie, although it's nonsense that it got placed in the "adapted" category.

It's worth noting that while fans of Erasure will want to see American Fiction, knowledge of the novel isn't necessary to appreciate the movie.



My favorite movie of the year (though I still haven't seen Anatomy of a Fall). Kind of made for an ethnic studies audience :)

Steven Rubio

I can definitely see this being shown in an ethnic studies class. You made me think ... I liked the book, perhaps not as much as I liked the movie, but well enough ... but it didn't make me want to run out and read other books by Everett. I wondered if his other books are like the non-Pafology books Monk wrote.

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