Monday, April 15, 2024

“THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MAGICAL NEGROES”

THE STORY – A young man gets recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to making white people’s lives easier. Although initially enamored with his new powers, he begins to question the value of using supernatural means to do the very thing he’s felt obligated to do his whole life.

THE CAST – Justice Smith, David Alan Grier, An-Li Bogan, Drew Tarver, Michaela Watkins, Aisha Hinds, Tim Baltz, Rupert Friend & Nicole Byer

THE TEAM – Kobi Libii (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 105 Minutes


In this troublesome world that constantly manifests horrific tragedy and controversial events, there are many ways in which individuals have found means to tolerate the experience of such trauma. Activism and political action are effective methods, but artistry can be a useful medium. It is often a reflexive arena, able to channel the overwhelming sense of despair into a palatable tale that evokes the emotional turmoil felt from within. A radical step further in this space is satire, which acutely finds humor in the face of such atrocities. It is not meant to mock or belittle such serious subject matter but to disarm its more dangerous qualities as a means to illuminate the true nature at the core. This is an obvious objective for “The American Society of Magical Negroes,” a film that is excited by its intriguing concept but also struggles to assemble an engaging atmosphere.

The protagonist of this story is Aren (Justice Smith), a young artist who wrestles with severe insecurities and a failing sense of purpose. When he thinks it’s time to pack it in after a disastrous art gallery showing, he crosses paths with a mysterious gentleman named Roger (David Alan Grier). The older man extends an opportunity to Aren an invitation into the American Society of Magical Negroes. This is a secret organization in which Black people are gifted powers for the express purpose of becoming friends with white people and disarming them of any uncomfortable thoughts. In this group, the belief is that relieving this stress prevents further violence from erupting. Aren’s first assignment is to assist Jason (Drew Tarver), who is under pressure with his job at a social media company. Things get complicated when Lizzie (An-Li Bogan), Jason’s co-worker, enters the picture. She and Aren start to form a relationship, but he is told to subjugate in favor of Jason’s affections. The conflict takes a toll on him, hurdling him to a breaking point that will lead to a revelation he has been elusive for too long.

The premise at the heart of this film is intentionally divisive but not without its compelling elements. The ideas that writer-director Kobi Libii chooses to explore are the ways in which people of color, specifically Black individuals, must carefully navigate a world that is not designed for their comfort. It taps into the treacherous terrain that comes with balancing one’s own sense of self-worth with the injustice that is forced to be maintained to preserve a malignant status quo. However, like any highly inventive world newly created, the devil is in the details, and Libii’s narrative comes across as opaquely drawn in the more specific aspects of this world-building. The Society’s purpose is to protect the lives of Black people without much mention of civil rights protests that inspired real change. It gives passing acknowledgment to the generational divide in this mentality without ever making a real statement to indict those who approve of such submissive policies. From afar, this appears to be a sharp critique of race relations in the modern age, but the picture it’s attempting to create is hazy when it comes to a more meaningful commentary.

Smith has been an actor who has never truly lived up to the potential that is occasionally showcased in previous roles. His portrayal here, however, should be noted as one of his stronger efforts. He infuses Aren with an inviting empathy that makes one care for his plight. That skittishness is successfully mixed with a growing confidence that he plays with a compelling earnestness, particularly effective during the finale with a heartfelt outburst. He shares an endearing chemistry with Bogan, who is not tasked with much in her role but is charming within this dynamic. There is also a warmth from Grier, capturing a stern yet alluring persona that is nice to watch. The supporting turns from the likes of Tarver, as well as Michela Watkins and Rupert Friend, are entertaining but also stunted in their impact. The latter two, in particular, can be very funny and steal the show in the few moments they are given, but they also inhabit characters with very little substance. Tarver especially feels wasted in a role that is intentionally bland and unsuitable for his skillset.

One can appreciate the ambition of “The American Society of Magical Negroes.” It is difficult to bring comedy into the realm of such dark topics, but it can be effective when handled correctly. However, the scope of satire must always be specific and the targets clear. The issue at the heart of this film is its aim is too wide. The foundation may be built around a particular topic, but the execution finds itself meandering to less captivating characters that participate in a muddled thesis. What should be a daring exercise ends up being a lethargic analysis that doesn’t have as much bite as it thinks it does. It’s a noble effort that lands with underwhelming results.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The film has an interesting premise that exposes some intriguing topics. The cast has an endearing chemistry with each other and delivers the final emotional catharsis with an impactful energy.

THE BAD - The overall satire isn't very sharp, which makes the narrative sloppy and disorganized. The analysis is opaque, and the commentary is shallow. Most of the supporting players feel wasted in their roles.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Josh Parham
Josh Parhamhttps://nextbestpicture.com
I love movies so much I evidently hate them. Wants to run a production company.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>The film has an interesting premise that exposes some intriguing topics. The cast has an endearing chemistry with each other and delivers the final emotional catharsis with an impactful energy.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The overall satire isn't very sharp, which makes the narrative sloppy and disorganized. The analysis is opaque, and the commentary is shallow. Most of the supporting players feel wasted in their roles.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MAGICAL NEGROES"