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Film Review: Cord Jefferson's 'American Fiction,' Juel Taylor's 'They Cloned Tyrone'

For those looking for independent films by ground-breaking filmmakers, "American Fiction" and "They Cloned Tyrone" hit the mark. 

"American Fiction”

"American Fiction" is directed by Cord Jefferson and stars Jeffrey Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae and Tracee Ellis Ross. The film is about an author named Thelonious "Monk" Ellison (Wright) who is frustrated that his books are not deemed "Black enough" by the general public. 

Monk writes a satirical novel about stereotypical Black people and Black culture to expose the hypocrisies of modern society. Contrary to what Monk believes will happen, the book gains almost immediate fame and is considered serious literature by the liberal upper class. 

"American Fiction" has been on my Letterboxd watchlist for a few months, and I finally saw it a couple of weeks ago with some of my friends. This is one of the most entertaining films of 2023, and it has been getting many rightfully deserved award nominations. 

As the lead actor in this role, Wright proved he was main character worthy. Usually, Wright is a secondary role or a minor character in most of his films, whether it be James Gordon in Matt Reeves' "The Batman" (2022) or Roebuck Wright in Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch" (2021). 

He sells his performance as Monk. Monk is relatable not just for Black men but for everyone struggling to make a name for themselves. The rest of the cast contributed wonderful performances, too. Brown plays Monk's brother, Clifford Ellison and Ross plays Monk's sister, Lisa Ellison. All three performers impressively bounce off of each other and have natural chemistry. They feel exactly how siblings in their 30s or 40s would interact with one another. 

The movie's insightful commentary questions whether enjoying stereotypical Black art is good or bad. Rae plays Sintara Golden, an author who writes a successful book about Black peoples' lives in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Rae expresses that she believes Monk's book is "pandering." Monk agrees but points out that her book is just an excuse to have "trauma porn." 

Offended, Rae argues that most of the characters in her book are based on real-life people and their testimonies. Rae also says that she is just "giving the market what it wants," and it is not her problem if readers form stereotypes based on her characters. 

There is a lot more to unpack with "American Fiction." It is fun to watch, but the film also recognizes that people often see the stereotype of a Black man or woman instead of the actual person. This is not just white people; this goes for every race as well. 

"American Fiction" is still playing in local theaters. It is a movie that has something important to say and is a fantastic directorial debut from writer-director-producer Cord Jefferson. This being his first film, I am excited to see where Jefferson goes into his career and what other themes and concepts he'll explore. 

Rating: 3.5/5 

"They Cloned Tyrone" 

"They Cloned Tyrone" is directed by Juel Taylor and stars John Boyega, Jamie Foxx, Teyonah Parris and Kiefer Sutherland. The film is about a drug dealer named Fontaine (Boyega). One of his customers is Slick Charles (Foxx), who is a pimp. One of Slick Charles' sex workers is a woman named Yo-Yo (Parris). Together, the trio unravels a government conspiracy after a series of strange occurrences. 

This movie is a total blast to watch with your friends. What makes it the most entertaining is the unlikely trio of heroes. 

Boyega, Foxx and Parris are all going 90 mph in this movie. Not one of them drags in his or her performance. My favorite out of the three would have to be Foxx as Slick Charles. Foxx is so natural as Slick that it feels like the role was meant for him and no one else. 

To my surprise, the film is a science fiction movie. The conspiracy that the trio uncovered is that the government is cloning Black people of a particular Black neighborhood.

Fontaine is shot to death at the beginning of the film, and we see a couple of scenes later that is alive and well. He does not seem to recall the shooting, much to the dismay and confusion of Slick Charles and Yo-Yo. Through some wacky hijinks and the characters' cleverness, the trio finds the station where the clones are being produced and all agree that they need to stop this madness. This leads even more people to join forces with the trio to take this evil operation down once and for all.

Sutherland's character, a stern man named Nixon, is the head of the operation to make clones of Black people. He believes the government is doing a good thing to keep Black people under complete control. Nixon even has a trigger word that causes all of the Black people in the neighborhood to follow his command. 

But Nixon's idea of control is placing Black people in absurd and stereotypical living situations. They feel as if they cannot go anywhere else in the world and are just playing their part. Yo-Yo even states that she wished she could be a nurse, but things held her back from doing so. After a shocking series of events, they overthrow Nixon and win their autonomy; it is a great ending to the story.

If you have a Netflix subscription or have a friend or family member with an account, watch "They Cloned Tyrone" at your best convenience. It is one of the best independent movies I have seen in a very long time. 

Rating: 3.5/5 

"American Fiction" and "They Cloned Tyrone" make an excellent double feature. I recommend watching both of them on a Saturday night. It is quite the experience. Jefferson and Taylor are two new voices for Black cinema and should be on everybody's radar in the future.


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