HomeUncategorizedAmerican Society of Magical Negroes Review: A Savage Satire

American Society of Magical Negroes Review: A Savage Satire

The Pitch: Aren (Justice Smith) is an aspiring artist whose complicated yarn-based pieces can’t seem to sell, perhaps because he doesn’t have the confidence to push his own work. However, when he meets Roger (David Alan Grier), things change quickly for him, as Roger recruits him to join the American Society of Magical Negroes, the real-life embodiment of a trope that goes back decades.

The ASMN is dedicated to one goal: making white people feel more comfortable — because when white people feel uncomfortable, it tends to go badly for Black people. Aren proves to be a quick study at the literal magic involved before getting his first real assignment: helping tech bro Jason (Drew Tarver) excel personally and professionally. Unfortunately, Aren’s chemistry with Jason’s crush/coworker Lizzie (An-Li Bogan) might not just doom his assignment, but the entire Society as a whole…

Tropes Come to Life: Premiering at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival before making its theatrical debut, The American Society of Magical Negroes is proof of how effective satire can be, when it comes to saying things that might be a struggle to say otherwise. There’s almost a Disney-ish charm at times to the magical realism of the film, but those lighter moments only underline the power of writer/director Kobi Libii’s message, rooted in deeply felt anger and anxiety about being a person of color in today’s world — today’s America, to be precise.

If you need a quick rundown of the Magical Negro trope, it refers to a Black character (in all kinds of media) whose entire purpose is to serve the personal journey of a white protagonist. If you need an even quicker rundown — think about The Legend of Bagger Vance or Song of the South. Calling out this trope directly allows Libii to play with some delicious satirization, invoking those films and more without ever name-dropping Will Smith or James Baskett. Still, the point could not be clearer.

American Society of Magical Negroes Review

American Society of Magical Negroes (Focus Features)

Quite a Cast: Justice Smith established himself as a talent to pay attention to with his breakout work in 2016’s The Get Down, and it’s a thrill to see him get a leading role where he doesn’t have to share the spotlight with Pikachu. Not only does he give great rom-com lead here (not always the easiest task) but he doesn’t struggle to tap into Aren’s very understandable rage and frustration, as ASMN membership becomes yet another burden for him to bear.

Serving as Aren’s guide into this new world, David Alan Grier anchors the film with his smooth confidence, while Nicole Byer’s hilarious in her limited role as the leader of the ASMN. As for the rest of the cast, Drew Carver takes on a very different role from his work on The Other Two, though what his characters in both projects have in common is a lurking sense of entitlement, just under the “nice guy” surface. And relative newcomer An-Li Bogan brings necessary spark to her role, especially as we witness Lizzie’s own struggles as an employee of MeetBox.

Setting the bulk of the film at a tech company is a smart choice on a few levels — not the least of which being the industry’s real documented examples of racism. Libii gets a lot of easy comedy out of MeetBox’s almost over-the-top portrayal of tech company culture, which doesn’t hit quite as hard as the film’s more nuanced commentary on race. (Until, that is, the story brings it all together.)

The Verdict: Beneath the layers of magical realism and dot-com satire, American Society feels personal and raw, capturing the real depth and range of emotions that a person of color is made to feel, living in a country where racism remains ever-present, especially now.

While American Society is rightly centered on the Black experience, the film does end with one final beat that doesn’t so much set up a sequel as it does make the film’s point explicitly clear: Everyone deserves to be at the center of their own stories, to have their journey be the one that matters. And all the idiotic pushback about “woke” content from disingenuous operators overlooks what makes it so exciting to be alive at this moment, when fresh new voices are not just telling fresh new stories, but helping us to redefine what stories can be about, and what they can teach us.

Where to Watch: The American Society of Magical Negroes arrives in theaters Friday, March 15th.


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