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'The American Society of Magical Negroes' Dives Deep Into Covert Racism

Focus Features has released the satirical comedy, The American Society of Magical Negroes, this past weekend.

The film follows Aren, portrayed by Justice Smith, a young man navigating the intricacies of modern life. His world is turned upside down when he is recruited into a clandestine society with a peculiar mission: to make white people's lives easier. The mysterious organization, aptly named The American Society of Magical Negroes, unveils a hidden layer of society where magical abilities are harnessed for a cause both absurd and bold: Black people dedicating their lives to making white people's lives easier.

The studio had an uphill battle to find an audience for the film, which stars David Alan Grier, An-Li Bogan, Drew Tarver, Michaela Watkins, Rupert Friend, Aisha Hinds, and Nicole Byer. From the title to the plot and trailer reveal, the backlash was quick.

During a conversation while promoting the film, Smith and Kobi Libii, writer and director of the film, spoke about understanding the backlash.

"We've got natural leaders who dropped the ball a lot as an industry," Smith says about the relationship between Hollywood and the Black community. "A raised eyebrow is very understanding and other aspects of that reaction."

Smith also explains that the film is "satire" and that presents its own set of challenges with finding an audience and meeting expectations of having a "Black Hogwarts."

"They're typically using those superpowers for a fight bigger than systemic racism," Smith says about stories showing Black people with elevated superpowers.

But Libii was intentional about the story he wanted to tell. "As a culture. I think we're pretty good at telling stories about overt racism, slavery stories, legal discrimination because they're visual. But the more common microaggressions are incredibly hard to pin down," Libii shares. "Kinda one of the things I hope to do with this story of trying to make that almost intangible, invisible quality of racism, tangible and visible."

As Cord Jefferson said during a press conference after winning the Oscar for American Fiction, "[A] story with Black characters that's going to appeal to a lot of people doesn't need to take place on a plantation. Doesn't need to take place in the projects. Doesn't need to have drug dealers in it. Doesn't need to have gang members in it."

Yes, The American Society of Magical Negroes is not about Black people fighting "evil" with magic. It's also not a film about a Black man using magic to fall in love with a non-Black woman. At the film's core, Libbi is providing another perspective of a life that many Black people experience every day: living in a world where their mere presence gives white people discomfort. That's the story and the message he is trying to shed light on.

Despite opening with a little over $1 million at the Box office and a rotten tomato score of 30%, Smith remains hopeful.

"I believe the film will be extremely nourishing for the Black community...But it requires being open to a different kind of film that is nourishing differently than other films are. I'm just hopeful that the community will give it a chance and see it because I believe once they do, they'll find it nourishing in different ways than the movie many were hoping for."

The American Society of Magical Negroes is now playing in theaters. Check it out and let us know what you think.


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