It would be bad enough that people aren’t reading much anymore. (We are also book reviewers.) But the public also seems to prefer simple stories that promote stereotypes and narrative tropes.

That’s the complaint of Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright). A college professor and author of serious novels that aren’t selling, he doesn’t fit the expected mold in either character development or writing style of the Black American writer. Noticing his work is shelved in the African-American Studies section of a bookstore, he complains that the only thing “black” about his books is the ink.

Issa Rae as Sintara Golden at the conference

His frustration is aggravated when at a conference he hears a bestselling Black author, Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), read from her book We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, claiming it is a book about “my people.” The mostly white audience bursts into applause. Monk decides to try his hand at writing a Black book under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh. He names it My Pafology. The story has deadbeat dads, rappers, crack, and someone getting killed by a cop in the end. “That’s black, right?” he says to his agent Arthur (John Ortiz) as he insists the manuscript be sent out to publishers.

For Monk, the book is a joke and his way of rubbing the noses of white people in their inclination to see all Black people only one way. To his dismay, a white publishing house buys the book for $750,000 declaring it raw, real, and a guaranteed bestseller. Then a movie director (Adam Brody) offers $4 million for the screen rights. Even when Monk wants to change the title to “F---K” the publisher (Miriam Shore) and marketing director (Michael Cyril Creighton) go along; they think the title change is “very brave.”

Monk does get into playing the part of Stagg. He adopts a hipster walk and speaks in slang on talk shows where his face is not shown because they have put out that he is a con hiding from the police. The book debuts at the #1 spot on the bestseller lists.

Meanwhile, Monk is a judge for a major literary award and his book is a major contender. Sintara is another judge, and he tries to get her to condemn the literary narrative about black people in poverty or as slaves but maintaining their dignity before they die. “I’m not saying these things aren’t real, he argues, “but we are also more than this.”

American Fiction could have been a scathing satire, harshly putting down both whites and Blacks who don’t reject popular Black fiction and films. One dialogue between Monk and a new girlfriend (Erika Alexander), who is reading F- - K, reveals him to be extremely judgmental and elitist.

But director Cord Jefferson, who has adapted this story from novel Erasure by Percival Everett, instead shows us that Monk is more than this – more than a bitter, frustrated writer. A second story in the film has him grieving the death of his sister (Tracee Ellis Ross), accepting his brother’s (Sterling K. Brown) homosexuality, taking care of his mother (Leslie Uggams) who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and appreciating the family long-term housekeeper (Myra Lucretia Taylor).

Jeffery Wright is a marvel to behold as he portrays a man looking to understand himself, his family, and today’s literary scene. His story is a journey of transformation, and we hope to see more of them.