American Fiction parents guide

American Fiction Parent Guide

The satire's sharp, the characters convincing, the profanity overdone.

Overall C

Theaters: A frustrated novelist writes a novel playing on Black stereotypes as a joke but finds himself with a best seller on his hands.

Release date December 22, 2023

Violence C+
Sexual Content C+
Profanity D
Substance Use D

Why is American Fiction rated R? The MPAA rated American Fiction R for language throughout, some drug use, sexual references and brief violence.

Run Time: 117 minutes

Parent Movie Review

Thelonious Ellison (known as Monk and played by Jeffrey Wright) is a distinguished author and university professor. His books are critically acclaimed but sales are slow. Publishers want Monk’s next book to be more “Black”, which leaves him incredulous. “They have a Black book,” he says. “I’m Black and it’s my book.”

Incensed that his work is being viewed through what he sees as an artificial racial lens, Monk sets out to write the most stereotypically “Black” book he can imagine. Determined to prank publishers, Monk directs his agent, Arthur (John Ortiz), to send the manuscript, “My Pafology”, out for review. No one is more surprised than Monk when a publisher makes a strong offer on the book. Arthur suggests that the author is an ex-convict and wanted fugitive, and the resulting publicity vaults the book to bestseller status.

Monk is horrified by his newfound success. He hates his book, doesn’t respect his readers, and is losing respect for himself. There’s just one problem: he needs money to fund his mother’s care and that kind of cash is not easily found in the rarefied world of academia.

American Fiction is a brilliant satire but it is not a subtle one. The messages about stereotypes, soft bigotry, virtue signaling, “wokeness”, and identity politics are drawn in broad strokes, but are no less funny for it. This film is by turns thoughtful, irreverent, melancholy, and exasperated. It’s also hysterically funny, and had me laughing out loud on several occasions.

The script may be witty but it’s also full of profanity, including 38 sexual expletives and a half dozen racial slurs. Main characters smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol and one is seen using cocaine. A doctor also gives someone oxycontin as a sedative, without considering a more appropriate medication. There is no sex on screen, but a man’s gay affair is a plot point. Almost all of the movie’s infrequent violence occurs in someone’s imagination and need not be taken seriously.

American Fiction is obviously not geared at family audiences or adults who are sensitive to negative content. If you’re not troubled by profanity, this movie asks some very interesting questions, beginning with its title and the fictions about race that are embedded in American society. The story also probes the issue of integrity, with Monk constantly waffling between financial gain, his strongly held literary beliefs, and his convictions about race.

This is a complex film but it works, thanks to sharp writing and a rock-solid performance by Jeffrey Wright. His Monk is a straightforward man, confident in his own intelligence, and frustrated by narrow racial categories. Wright completely inhabits the character, making him believable and sympathetic, even when the consequences of his deception start to pile up. The story might be fictional, but Wright’s performance rings true.

Directed by Cord Jefferson. Starring Jeffrey Wright, Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross. Running time: 117 minutes. Theatrical release December 22, 2023. Updated

American Fiction
Rating & Content Info

Why is American Fiction rated R? American Fiction is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout, some drug use, sexual references and brief violence.

Violence: A person dies but only the feet are visible on screen. A person mentions suicide with a firearm. In an imaginary sequence, a man shoots someone with a handgun. A man has a black eye as the result of an off-screen fight. It’s mentioned that a dementia patient has hit a nurse. In a fantasy scene, a man is shot to death by police officers
Sexual Content: There’s reference to a man’s adulterous affairs. There’s brief reference to imaginary sex with movie stars. There’s mention of a gay adulterous affair. Two men kiss. A man talks about “taking a lover”. A man and woman kiss. There’s a passing mention of masturbation.
Profanity: The script contains 38 sexual expletives, two dozen scatological curses, over 20 terms of deity, eight minor profanities, and four crude anatomical terms. There are also a half dozen racial slurs in the script (and one shown in writing) and five crude terms for women.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A doctor smokes cigarettes. Adults drink alcohol with meals and to cope with difficult emotions. A doctor gives people narcotics to sedate them. A man uses cocaine on screen and its use is implied on other occasions.

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American Fiction Parents' Guide

Why does Monk write “My Pafology”? What is he trying to prove? Why do you think he lets Arthur float the manuscript? Do you think he would have rejected the offer even if his mother didn’t need care? Do you think there’s a difference between his professed motivations and possible underlying motivations?

What role does Monk’s brother, Clifford, play in the film? What does he add to Monk’s journey?

What does the script say about racism in contemporary America? Do you agree with Monk’s perspective on race and racism?

Home Video

Related home video titles:

Watching a parent succumb to dementia is agonizing and those challenges are clearly shown in The Father. The film stars Sir Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in a finely drawn drama.

If it’s satire you’re after, we suggest Dr. Strangelove, Barbie, Don’t Look Up, Jojo Rabbit, or Greener Grass.