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  • Writer's pictureRob Ervin

Rob Reviews "The American Society of Magical Negroes"


As The American Society of Magical Negroes begins, there is a graphic explaining the terminology of its title card.  Coming from American forms of entertainment and coined by legendary filmmaker Spike Lee, it is the type of secondary character in a story whose purpose is to help the white protagonist realize and achieve their true potential.  This trope is taken to a bit of a different level with Kobi Libii’s writing and directorial debut.

 

Aren (Justice Smith) is an artist who is just trying to find his way through young adulthood.  While trying to sell a piece at a show, he encounters Roger (David Alan Grier), who brings him to a secret society that for hundreds of years has worked to make what was thought as a literary device a reality.  When Aren decides to join up, he is “assigned” to Jason (Drew Tarver), a struggling designer for an Internet platform trying to get to that next level while dealing with his boss, Lizzie (An-Li Bogan).  Lizzie is not a tough boss, but she herself is trying to get ahead as well.  This all leads to a love triangle that turns everything upside down for all involved, including risking it all for Aren himself while not revealing himself to the others involved in his mission.

 

This film has a script that is witty and smart with performances that really felt all-in.  Justice Smith has come a LONG way in his career, and the choices he makes in becoming Aren is nothing short of spot-on, showing the vulnerability of someone who just wants to be a nice guy traveling through this life while realizing that he is capable of being more than he ever thought he could be.  He hits all of the right beats at all of the right times for the character arc that is in front of him regardless of who is there with him.  It’s also great to see David Alan Grier back on any screen, and he brings a gravity to Roger as the de facto father figure and mentor to Aren (who also is human himself) that compliments their relationship wonderfully.  There is also a comedic balance that holds up within this story, enhanced in a small role played by Nicole Byers that helps some of the other supporting cast fill in the pieces of the story that gives the group its history and role in society.

 

Libii creates a world that does a lot practically with some visuals here and there that do not get overwhelming or seem unnecessary.  Even the ones that are played for laughs play a role in the overall story he is telling that kept me engaged the entire time.

 

I truly enjoyed this film, which has that independent film feel with a bit of a bigger budget execution, and that is not a bad thing at all.  Both thought-provoking and highly entertaining, this is one that I hope can get to as broad of an audience as possible.

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