‘American Fiction’: A commentary on portrayals of stereotypes in media

11/29/23 By Tara Nguyen

Emerson College’s Visual and Media Arts department hosted a pre-screening of Cord Jefferson’s directorial debut, “American Fiction,” on Wednesday in the Bright Family screening room at Paramount Center.

Image courtesy of IMDb

The film is adapted from the 2001 novel Erasure by Percival Everett and follows the story of an African-American writer and college professor, Theolonius “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), who has struggled to find success in his novels. While waiting for word from publishing houses on his most recent manuscript, Monk begins to notice another Black author’s success. Sintara Gold’s (Issa Rae) novel, “We’s Lives in da Ghetto,” is a smash hit among audiences, but Monk finds it to be problematic since it seems to capitalize on Black stereotypes and tropes. 

As a joke, Monk writes a novel loosely based on these same stereotypes, including gang violence, absent fathers and exaggerated, coarse language. At the same time, he creates a pseudonym for himself: “Stagg R. Lee.” He takes this persona a step further by saying that he is a violent ex-convict and that everything written is a completely true story — when it’s not. Even though it was written to make fun of books like Gold’s, editors at publishing houses eagerly compete for the book by offering him large sums of money that he cannot resist. Although at first he’s reluctant, he begins to falter as he runs into family and financial issues. 

The turnout for the film was an almost packed theater, with students and faculty alike. Considering this is a larger budget film, slightly different from the usually scheduled weekly independent films offered by the Bright Lights Cinema Series, this presented an opportunity for students to see a film for free before they hit theaters. 

“The accessibility to the screening provided by Emerson is a wonderful opportunity for those who want to go see films. The screening’s acknowledgment of indigenous filmmakers and filmmakers of color creates exposure to these groups that don’t get as much momentum as blockbuster films produced by white people,” Shirley Pockels-Gomez, a sophomore creative writing major, said.

To learn more about upcoming screenings and film events on campus, check out Emerson’s Bright Lights Cinema Series.