Special thanks to the Rochester Association of Black Journalists for inviting me to be a panelist to discuss the critically-acclaimed movie, American Fiction. Also, thanks to Ebony Nicole Smith for being the moderator. Side note: I’m the one in the red hat!
I noticed several recurring themes throughout the movie that resonated with me anddepictedt some of the frustrations Black people face in a world centered on whiteness.
1. Who Monk is, Isn’t Good Enough
Movie Quote (by his agent, Arthur): “Your books are good, but they’re not popular.” What a blow to Monk’s self-esteem. Despite the quality content of his books, he can’t escape the expectation that he should cater to what people like or want. He is constantly being bombarded with messages that he should alter his message, his delivery, his tone, his demeanor…basically everything.
2. Ratchetness is Rewarded
Movie Quote (by Monk): “The dumber I behave, the richer I get.” This is another indication that Monk doesn’t tap into what publishers or readers want. This is evident as his agent pitches his book to several editors and publishers who continuously reject Monk’s manuscript. Monk is reminded of is failure to connect when he attends a book workshop by Sintara Golden, a wildly popular author whose work features ebonics and highlights stereotypical depictions of Black Americans. In a rage, Monk writes a script seeped in violence, drugs, illegal activity, absent fathers, and other commonly Black tropes. Despite his best effort to make the manuscript so eggregious no one would ever publish it, he fails miserably as it’s picked up by a publisher dying to get it into the hands of the American people. So, in an effort to prove a point about the ridiculousness of the Black literature being pumped to the masses he becomes part of the problem as his own cliche-ridden book takes the world by storm.
3. Relatability is Golden
Movie Quote (by Agnes Ellison, Monk’s Mom): “Geniuses are loners because they can’t connect with the rest of us.” This one hit home, so much so I teared up a bit. As a creative who spends so much of my time envisioning things yet to come, I can become distant. As I sit with others, my mind often wanders. I operate in a ‘how and what can I innovate next?’ mindset that separates me from others. I can come across as aloof or uninterested but the reality is that I tend gravitate towards my own thoughts and ideas which often conflict with or defy public interest.
As an editor and author, it was refreshing to see a film about the Black experience in the publishing industry. The refreshment was short-lived as the audience laughed at Monk’s pain. A pain all to0 familiar to Black authors fighting to be seen and heard, as individuals, not as the monolithic parody we are often confined to in various aspects of our lives. While I understand American Ficiton is a satirical film, sadness lodged itself in my throat and enveloped my spirit because the jokes and punchlines throughout the film were drenched in truth. Talk about laughing at pain, better yet laughing at your own pain, our pain.
Luckily, not all hope is lost. I beam with joy every time I see Black self-published or hybrid-published authors because we are able to control our narrative. This makes me hopeful for Black creatives, this makes me excited for the future and eager to make further contributions via my own books, my podcast, Editor Knows Best, my company, Love for Words, and my legacy. It makes me proud and lets me know our efforts are not in vain. We matter, we are important and valuable. We deserve to tell our stories — unapologetically.