One of the boldest movies premiering at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival is “The American Society of Magical Negroes,” directed by Kobi Libii. The film takes aim at the Magical Negro stereotype and centers on a young man (Justice Smith) who is recruited into a society in which African American members are tasked with ensuring that white people’s lives remain easy. Libii, Smith and co-star David Alan Grier visited the Variety Studio presented by Audible and spoke about the reactions to their button-pushing satire.
“Some members of the white community will see it and say, ‘We’re tired of hearing about race.’ Well we’re tired of talking about it,” Grier said. “We’re tired! We’re tied, too. We all want to get past this, but you can only get past it by going through it.”
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Smith remembered reactions to the film during focus screenings. He noticed that some Black viewers found themselves struggling to come to terms with the film’s premise. The script focuses on how corporate structures in America have institutionalized Black employees to act in service of and uplift their white employees.
“There were Black people who were triggered by seeing something that they weren’t ready to admit in themselves,” Smith said. “Like, ‘I’ve never made space for white people in this way.’ But then there are Black people who are like, ‘This is me, this is what I’ve had to do to survive.’ This shows that we’re not a monolith. This art is controversial because it expands what Black art can be and speaks about such a specific side of Blackness and survival that we haven’t really seen before…this micro-aggressive corporate racism.”
Speaking to Variety before the Sundance Film Festival, Libii also addressed his decision to tackle such a sensitive, race-driven issue.
“The subject matter I’m playing with is really sensitive and raw, and people have such strong, visceral feelings about it,” the filmmaker said. “I think means that we’re pointed in the right direction in terms of what we should be talking about. I’m genuinely excited for people to bring that same passion and political conviction into what I think is the more sophisticated and intricate and nuanced conversation that the full film is.”
What Libii is eagerly anticipating, though, is the reaction from the live audience. “I love the audience reaction, especially because it’s a comedy, so people giving other people permission to laugh – especially about some of the tricker stuff — is something I’m looking forward to,” he said.
Focus Features is set to release “The American Society of Magical Negroes” in theaters March 15.
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