BILL VAUGHAN’S TASTY CLIPS: Jeffrey Wright wins again with ‘American Fiction’

By Bill Vaughan

Entertainment Writer

Author and activist James Baldwin once said, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” This quote then begs the question: What does it mean to be seen as Black? Who gets to define, evaluate and authenticate Blackness?

Is society, industry and media ready to breathe in the depth and breadth of Black identity beyond recycled perceptions and preconceived notions? Is it time to turn up the volume on Blackness so Black experiences can break through — in total living color?

Tony and Emmy Award-winner Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld,” “No Time to Die,” “Angels in America”), Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, Keith David and Sterling K. Brown make up the cast of “American Fiction,” a wickedly bold and smart comedy about the commodification of marginalized voices now open in select theaters.

Wright portrays Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, a respected author and professor of English literature at a predominantly white institution who experiences professional and personal events that force him to reexamine the terms of his integrity, ideals and artistic existence.

“From the moment I started reading ‘Erasure’— the weird, hilarious, heartbreaking, and elegantly furious Percival Everett novel on which ‘American Fiction’ is based — I had felt that the book was written as a gift specifically for me,” says Cord Jefferson who makes his feature directorial debut with this film. 

“[It] was published more than 20 years ago, yet the questions it asks remain painfully relevant: Why is American culture fascinated with Black trauma? Why aren’t Black professors depicted in books and films as frequently as Black drug addicts, or Black rappers, or Black slaves? 

“Why is it that white people with the power to greenlight films, books and TV shows have such a limited view of what Black lives should look like? I’ve asked myself these questions many times before when I hear yet another slave movie is going into production or when I see that another talented Black actor has been hired to portray a drug dealer, pimp or single mother who needs to overcome her unenviable lot in life. This reductive view of Blackness makes me angry. And I’ve funneled that anger into ‘American Fiction,’” Jefferson added. 

For Wright, Jefferson’s storytelling drew him in.

“I thought the script offered a lot for me in terms of a character to wrap myself around, but also in terms of not just the themes, but also the construct, the ways in which the story is told,” Wright said. “It’s dealing with some super relevant, super tricky kind of age-old themes that exist both in our society and in our storytelling, but there’s a deep thread of comedy running through it, and parody and irony.”

NOW HEAR THIS: With the film musical adaptation of “The Color Purple” opening on Christmas Day, Warner Bros is offering two ways to listen to the songs. 

The first release, now available, will consist of interpretations by some of today’s most popular artists including Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Keyshia Cole, Megan Thee Stallion, Coco Jones, Jorja Smith, Ciara, Missy Elliott, Mary Mary, Usher and H.E.R. (who is featured in the film).

On opening day, a more traditional soundtrack of the score by prolific composer Kris Bowers (“Green Book,” “Chevalier,” “Bridgerton,” “King Richard” and Ava DuVernay’s upcoming “Origin”) will be made available for your listening pleasure. 

FIGHT THE POWER: The 2024 Social Justice Now Film Festival (Feb. 22-24) is looking for documentaries, narrative feature films and shorts on subjects or issues related to subjects such as racism, equity, education, health care, immigration,and LGBT rights. 

For more information on the second annual L.A. event, sponsored by Film Life Foundation with Sony Pictures Entertainment, visit: 

CLIPPETTES: Anita Baker’s The Songstress Tour comes to Arena for two nights beginning Dec. 22, as Juvenile plays The Bellwether, The Pharcyde hit The Venice West and Alisan Porter (winner of NBC’s “The Voice”) sings holiday favorites at Catalina Bar & Grill. Also Mindi Abair, Peter White and Vincent Ingala team for an evening of smooth jazz at Spaghettini’s 

In news that has fans of Tomi Adeyemi’s fantasy novel “Children of Blood and Bone” giddy, Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King,” “The Old Guard,” “Love & Basketball”) has been signed to direct the upcoming movie adaptation  

Parliament Funkadelic featuring George Clinton funks it up Dec. 23 at Ventura Music Hall, while Walt Disney Concert Hall hosts Arturo Sandoval’s Swinging Holiday

Jonathan Majors, found guilty in New York this week of reckless assault and harassment, has been removed by Marvel/Disney from his role of the villain Kang from all their properties while in the multiverse, he has been cast as Lobo in DC’s future movies  

“The Ambassador of Soul” Ellis Hall leads a Christmas Eve show at Vibrato Grill  

Singer Major’s foundation brings “A Major Day of Hope To Los Angeles” on Dec. 28 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Hilltop, 4427 W. Slauson Ave. Later that night, Greg Adams & East Bay Soul blow at Vibrato Grill, while Howie Mandel yuks it up at Morongo Casino. 

TASTY QUIP: “For Bryant Gumbel to be 75 years of age and walking away now on his own terms after 29 years doing what he’s been doing for HBO’s ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel’ is a testament to greatness. Anybody can have great moments. Anybody can be great for a moment. But true, true greatness in any chosen field is the kind of greatness that is sustained. That withstands the test of time, that transcends eras.” – STEPHEN A. SMITH 

TC ON TV: Dec. 22 – “What If …?” (Disney+): The Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) continues the journey as our guide through the vast Marvel Cinematic Universe. The animated anthology series, which returns for a second season with daily episodes, questions, revisits and twists classic Marvel Cinematic moments with an incredible voice cast that includes a host of stars who reprise their iconic roles. ”The 25th A Home For The Holidays” (CBS): With performances by CeCe Winans, David Foster & Katharine McPhee, Pentatonix and more. “The Tonight Show” (NBC): Cynthia Erivo

Dec. 23 – “Caffeine & Octane” (Motortrend): “Rapper T-Pain‘s Atl Home, Cool Tunes, and Cooler Cars” “Christmas with The Chosen: Holy Night” (CW): With Andrea Bocelli, his son Matteo Bocelli, and Maverick City Music. “Extended Family” (NBC): A sneak preview of the new Peacock sitcom starring Jon Cryer and Donald Faison. “Christmas Revisited” (OWN): A holiday reunion opens old wounds in this new movie with Tanyell Waivers (“Queen Sugar”), Jaime M. Callica (“Ruthless”), and Andrea Lewis (“Degrassi: The Next Generation”).  

Dec. 24 – “LINGO For The Holidays” (CBS): RuPaul dons his holiday best to host this special edition where contestants compete in a winter wonderland. “LoterÍa Loca” (CBS): Host Jaime Camil and bandleader Sheila E offer a registered nurse and a retired firefighter the chance to win $1 million on a special holiday-themed episode. “Gospel Superfest 2023 Christmas Special” (BET/BET Her): Hosted by Rocsi Diaz (formerly of BET’s “106 & Park”) featuring Crystal Aikin, Donnie McClurkin, Ricky Dillard, Jekalyn Carr, John P. Kee, Demetrius West and many others.

Dec. 25 – “Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade” (ABC): With Ariana DeBose, Michael Bolton, Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani and more. “Doctor Who Holiday Special” (Disney+): “The Church on Ruby Road” introduces the new doctor portrayed for the first time by a Black actor (Ncuti Gatwa from “Sex Education,” and “Barbie”). “NBA on Christmas Day” (ABC/ESPN): Bucks vs. Knicks; Warriors vs. Nuggets; Celtics vs. Lakers; 76ers vs. Heat; Mavericks vs. Suns 

Dec. 27 – “The 46th Kennedy Center Honors” (CBS): Dionne Warwick, Billy Crystal, Queen Latifah, Renee Fleming and Barry Gibb are recognized for their lifetime artistic achievements in the ceremony hosted by Gloria Estefan. “E! News Presents NBC’s Hot 10 of 2023” (NBC): Justin Sylvester and Keltie Knight co-host, along with Carolina Bermudez and Courtney Lopez. With commentary from Karamo Brown, Willie Geist, Hoda Kotb, Mario Lopez, Craig Melvin, Al Roker and more. 

Dec. 28 – “Oprah and The Color Purple Journey” (MAX): Oprah Winfrey takes viewers inside the four-decade phenomenon, exploring the importance of the novel, films and musical, and the ever-evolving conversation around this seminal work. 

END QUOTE: “The happiest people are those who do the most for others. The most miserable are those who do the least.” – BOOKER T. WASHINGTON 

As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment columns in the nation, serving nearly one million weekly readers. Bill Vaughan may be reached at, via Twitter @tastyclips, or Instagram @tasty_clips.