Cord Jefferson knew as soon as he read Percival Everett’s provocative 2001 novel Erasure that he wanted to turn it into a movie. And so, writing completely on spec, he adapted the book into one of the most critically acclaimed films of the festival season, American Fiction, which had its world premiere in TIFF and recently was a spotlight screening at the Middleburg Film Festival where it won the People’s Choice Award.
The film stars Jeffrey Wright as frustrated author and English professor Thelonius “Monk” Ellison, who is sick and tired of how Black culture is reduced to stereotypes to entertain Caucasians in the literary world, although you could just as easily add Hollywood into the mix, also. To combat this, Monk creates a fictional persona and writes a book filled with all of the urban tropes that have made others into bestselling authors. And much to his chagrin, the book becomes a hit.
I had a chance to talk with Cord Jefferson about American Fiction, his Middleburg experience, the challenge of adapting Erasure and the risk he took in changing some aspects of Everett’s novel. Of course, we also chatted about the casting of Jeffrey Wright, who is pitch-perfect and commanding as Monk, as well as the rest of the incredible cast.
American Fiction opens in select theaters on December 15th before expanding a week later.