Life & Culture

The American Society of Magical Negros review: Good idea, but not good enough for an entire film

This would work as a Saturday Night Live sketch, but that’s about it


A scene from The American Society of Magic Negroes


The term Magical Negro describes a racist trope in American film where African American characters with no inner life exist solely to enable white leading characters to fulfil their destiny. So why not turn the phenomenon into a satire?

 Wrriter/director Kobi Libi takes an idea that would be perfect for a sketch on Saturday Night Live and extends it beyond breaking point for a feature-length comedy.

Painfully diffident struggling artist Aren (Justice Smith) is recruited to the magical society of the title to save black lives by making white people happier. The premise is interesting but the idea is just not a sustainable narrative. The film is at its best during the rom-com scenes which borrow from Sleepless In Seattle and even have an Empire State Building moment. They work off the chemistry generated by Smith and An-Li Bogan’s Lizzie who Aren is forbidden from falling for because it would make the white man whose happiness he is responsible for, sad.

Any hope that this movie says anything useful about black experience or the society in which we all live evaporates along with good will for what fleetingly seemed like an audacious idea.

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