fbpx
Skip to content
Home > The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024): A Review

The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024): A Review

The American Society of Magical Negroes poster Image: IGN

A Fanciful and Provocative Satire of Race in America

“White Discomfort Is Your Nemesis, Aren.”

“Watching you walk through a room full of white people is one of the most painful things I’ve ever seen,” Roger (David Alan Grier) later remarks to Aren (Justice Smith) in The American Society of Magical Negroes. As Aren negotiates his way past collectors at a gallery show to pitch his yarn sculpture to a prospective patron in one scene, he’s all apologies—an apology for a black man. While he awkwardly struggles to start his patter, the patron (James Welsh) hands him his empty wine glass mistaking him for a waiter. He dutifully goes for a refill, the potential sale is lost and so is Aren. He jettisons his artwork in a garbage can in the alley behind the gallery and abandons his future as a fine artist. When Roger approaches him, he’s ironically ripe for recruitment into a role that could be his nightmare: a magical Negro.

The American Society of Magical Negroes follows Aren, who gets recruited into a secret society of Black people dedicated to making white people’s lives easier. The film is a satire of the “Magical Negro” trope. 

“I’ve always felt like it’s my job to make white people feel comfortable, and here, it literally is, but maybe it shouldn’t be,” Aren admits after he’s enrolled in The American Society of Magical Negroes. “White discomfort is your nemesis, Aren,” Roger replies. The society was founded by Thomas Jefferson’s slaves at his plantation, Monticello. Its mission is simple. “White people feeling uncomfortable precedes a lot of bad stuff for us. That’s why we fight white discomfort every day because the happier they are, the safer we are,” Roger explains. Once a white person is uncomfortable, the society receives an alert and a magical Negro is automatically dispatched to them. There’s even a team of Rapid Response Negroes for emergencies. The magical powers of the society are collective. If one fails, the capabilities of all fade.

The film sees Aron assigned to Jason (Drew Tarver), a designer for a dating app called Meetbox. His job is discomforting. Meetbox has had some technological malfunctions with its facial recognition software. It can’t read black faces. None of Meetbox’s users in Ghana can login. Their public relations response, “Meetbox values black faces” has been bastardized into “Meetbox values blackface” in memes. And his relationship with an attractive work colleague, Lizzie (An-Li Bogan), has fizzled before it even verged anywhere near the friend zone. Conversely, and ironically, a romantic spark flies when Aren bumps into Lizzie and literally douses her with coffee at a café while he’s en route to Jason. Romance kindles between them, but when Jason wishes for a date with Lizzie, it’s “client service first…It’s always about the client” as one of the society’s administrators, Gabbard (Aisha Hinds), has instructed. Jason dutifully backpedals his courtship with Lizzie to preserve the magical powers of his colleagues. Can he perpetuate his repression of his smoldering discomfort?              

The Super-Duper Magical Negro

Director Spike Lee (best known for Do the Right Thing [1989]) coined the term “super-duper magical Negro” in 2001 to brand a Hollywood trope in which a Black character appears solely to help a white character and then disappears. Scatman Crothers’ character in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining (1980) is an example as is Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Ghost (1990). Around the turn of the millennium, three major movies featured magical Negroes: The Matrix (1999), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), and another Stephen King adaptation, The Green Mile (1999). InThe Matrix, both Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the Oracle (Gloria Foster) are magical Negroes who mentor a practically clueless Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) into his apotheosis, Neo, who’s mastered the Matrix and has become the new messiah. Justice Smith is no relation, but has a distracting likeness to Will Smith, the eponymous magical Negro of The Legend of Bagger Vance who teaches his charge, Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon), the secret of life through mastering his golf swing. The quintessential magical Negro is The Green Mile’s John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan). Coffey is like the ideal slave: he has no family, no distracting desires of his own, and possesses Christlike service and supernatural powers. He’s “[y]our own personal Jesus,” to quote Depeche Mode.

Justice Smith as Aren and David Alan Grier as Roger in The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024). Image courtesy of Sight Unseen Pictures and Focus Features

A Fantastical Dystopia

Malcolm X wrote that “ a white man’s heaven is a black man’s hell.”  The magical Negro could be a fantasy cure for white guilt, but if The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024) wasn’t a fantastical satire with a sweet, romcom filling, it would be frighteningly dystopian. The word “Negro” is as anachronistic and oldfangled as The American Society of Magical Negroes. “White tears” meters that look like antique, wooden, banjo barometers indicate the comfort level of a white person from green to red. Operators communicate with members via devices that look like old-fashioned pocket watches, symbols of the Pullman Porters who were the paragons of brown-skinned service on trains. There’s a glimmer of the Harry Potter film series as Roger opens a secret entrance in the rear of an African American barbershop to gain access to the society’s inner sanctum and the black wizards teleport. But this wonderful world is pervaded by fear. “What’s the most dangerous animal on the planet?” Roger quizzes Aren. “Sharks?” Aren guesses. “White people. When they feel uncomfortable,” Roger replies. It’s not so much polemic as it is the kind exaggeration typical of satire. But there was a vindictive backlash to that scene from the far right with defensive comments alluding to the real dangers of predominantly black cities.          

Flat Whites and Characters of Color

While the white characters seem like flat incarnations of white privilege that share a practically monolithic cluelessness beyond their race and culture, the characters of color and their portrayals are distinctive and credible, especially Smith who is impressive. The lack of realistic white characters flattens The American Society of Magical Negroes. Aisha Hinds’ Gabbard is the epitome of dutiful efficiency. Nicole Byer is funny as the flamboyant and confident leader of the magical Negroes, Dede. Lifelike, Grier’s blunt Roger soldiers on. Smith and Bogan have a warm and sweet chemistry. Their romcom subplot—although it destracts from the story’s magical Negro gist—affords a second act to material that otherwise may not have developed beyond a skit. Smith’s climactic monologue is heartbreaking.   

White Fantasy and Black Nightmare On the Race Coin

The American Society of Magical Negroes is a fanciful satire on both sides of the coin of race in America. Heads, the magical Negro is a fantasy panacea for whites; Tails, irascible white people are a real nightmare for Black people. Aren could echo Rodney King’s plea after the white police officers who brutally beat him were acquitted inciting the 1992 Los Angeles riots: “Can’t we all get along?”

Sight Unseen Pictures produced The American Society of Magical Negroes, releasing it in the United States on January 19, 2024. It is now playing exclusively in theaters.  

Justice Smith as Aren and An-Li Bogan as Lizzie in The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024). Image courtesy of Sight Unseen Pictures and Focus Features

The American Society of Magical Negroes Official Trailer 

Source: Dead Talk Live

Contact Information:

Email: news@deadtalknews.com

Phone: +1 (646) 397-2874

Dead Talk Live is simultaneously streamed to: YouTubeInstagramTikTokFacebookTwitchTwitterVimeo, and LinkedIn

Shop official Dead Talk Live Merchandise at our Online Store

Author

Posts

James Keith La Croix has worked in and around the entertainment industry for years. He majored in film studies at Wayne State University and in Live Action Video at the College for Creative Studies. He wrote reviews, interviews, and features on cinema for the Detroit’s Metro Times.

Posts