The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024)

by | Mar 16, 2024 | Movie Reviews, New In Theaters | 0 comments

The American Society of Magical Negroes is both an incredibly reflective satire and a revealing modern romcom that touches on race and people’s perceived place in our society. In a world that’s full of people and corporations alike that promise to make change but never really do the work, this film comes at a really great time as it both mocks those people and shows you what they’re so afraid of when it comes to accountability they never seem to take. In a world that’s been meant to benefit and protect white men at every turn, it was a great surprise to go into this film knowing nothing and watching how they cleverly approach the issues of white discomfort and recognizing that so many people have to work so much harder just to get a fraction of the recognition.

The American Society of Magical Negroes

Aren (Justice Smith) is a creative type who creates sculptures out of yarn and is simply trying to find his place in this world. After a chance encounter saves him from what could’ve been an unwarranted beating at the hands of white men, Aren is recruited by a man named Roger (David Alan Grier) into The American Society of Magical Negroes, a network of other black people who help to de-escalate white frustration and seek to return those people to a less hostile state. When Aren is assigned to befriend and help a white man at a tech company, he begins to fall for the man’s coworker Lizzie (An-Li Bogan) and puts everyone’s magic in jeopardy as he learns to command the space he rightfully takes up in this world.

From the beginning of the film the audience immediately takes notice of and feels a portion of the visible discomfort Aren displays when he’s in most settings. He’s constantly apologizing to people who don’t think twice about him and likely don’t care to hear an apology in the first place, as they either dismiss or ignore him completely. Aren’s entire life has been steadily walked to make sure he’s not perceived as a threat or someone who doesn’t belong in regular places. Watching him bend over backwards to accommodate people he shouldn’t have to is really tough to watch, which makes his recruiting to an organization that is built on pleasing white people at any cost even more intriguing to watch.

Justice Smith plays his role with incredible dedication to creating moments that feel incredibly uncomfortable, mostly because you can see his character’s soul being shattered whenever he feels he must put himself second to help serve someone else’s interest. David Alan Grier’s mentoring role as Roger is incredibly enjoyable, balancing the valuable life-lessons of keeping yourself safe and enough humor to help keep things lighter as Aren gets more emotionally involved in the role. Playing off the Magical Negro film trope works incredibly effectively as a counter to what Aren is learning for himself and how he feels about having to inflate someone’s self-worth as means of keeping them from harming or hating black people.

Underneath all the very real layers of understanding what life is like for so many black people in this country, there is a lovely romantic comedy that’s backed by a lot of honesty and very genuine conversation. I’ve not seen An-Li Bogan before in a film but she absolutely enhances every scene she’s a part of and she brings forth another really great angle to support Aren’s feelings about his society. Seeing a woman who’s also a woman of color be passed over for opportunities as others benefit from her work was incredibly frustrating and how the film approaches her feelings towards it is marvelous. It doesn’t hurt that she and Hill work naturally together, even if they’re both a bit awkward at first.

The American Society of Magical Negroes was every bit as poignant as is it was inspiring, showcasing to everyone how white people need not be catered to and that society should continue to shift its views towards those whose voices have often been underrepresented or not heard at all. With brilliantly timed comedy the film tells a necessary story and develops its characters and their arcs in a realistic and really empowering way. Writer and director Kobi Libii has made an incredibly entertaining piece of “fiction” that engages the audience’s perception of reality in a unique fashion and makes quite a standout for his first feature film! Even the fantastical elements of the film (which feel as though they may be adapted from a YA novel) work to serve the larger narrative and never feel corny or like they’re too extra.

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