The American Society of Magical Negroes (2024, dir. Kobi Libii)

by | Apr 28, 2024

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 105 mins

UK Distributor: Universal Pictures

UK Release Date: 26 April 2024

WHO’S IN THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MAGICAL NEGROES?

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

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Kobi Libii (director, writer, producer), Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez and Eddie Vaisman (producers), Michael Abels (composer), Doug Emmett (cinematographer), Brian Olds (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A young Black man (Smith) is recruited into a secretive organisation that betters the lives of White people…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MAGICAL NEGROES?

These last few years, we’ve been gifted with some truly subversive commentaries on race relations in modern-day society, ones that combine heavy themes with various different genres like comedy and horror to create films that speak universal truths in interesting, engaging ways. Unfortunately, The American Society of Magical Negroes is not one of them.

Of the ones to have come out in the last few years, writer-director Kobi Libii’s feature debut is perhaps the biggest disappointment to date. The signs are all there for it to succeed, from its extremely creative premise to its satirical aim towards the oft-used “Magical Negro” storytelling trope – which consists of a Black character whose only role is to further the actions of a White protagonist – but, for numerous reasons, it fails to fully grasp its distinctive concept and the noble discussion points that come with it.

The film focuses on Aren (Justice Smith), a young biracial artist who is struggling to stand out in a world of resoundingly White judgement. However, soon after meeting a mysterious man named Roger (David Alan Grier), he is recruited into The American Society of Magical Negroes, a mystical organisation whose sole purpose is to better the lives of White people, by using their magical powers to manipulate events so that they work out in their favour, and thus protect Black people from harm. Aren’s first assignment is to a guy named Jason (Drew Tarver), who works at a social media company that’s under fire for its allegations of racial bias, but things become complicated when Aren falls for Jason’s co-worker and potential love interest Lizzie (An-Li Bogan), despite explicit orders to keep the White man’s needs above his own.

On paper, this idea is actually quite great. The so-called “Magical Negro” trope is well overdue a takedown for its outdated framework in White-driven storytelling – which has appeared prominently in everything from Song of the South to The Legend of Bagger Vance, to even one of my personal favourite movies The Green Mile (all of which are referred to in some way during this film) – and there are so many opportunities for this particular premise to address Black agency within that context. Also, to do so with an incorporated fantastical element, one that present the titular society as a Men in Black-esque organisation, is itself a stroke of genius because it adds extra layers to the uncomfortable archetype that is being skewed.

Sadly, all of that potential is utterly wasted on a final product that doesn’t even come close to reaching the very heights it sets for itself. Libii’s script isn’t funny or smart enough to work as a satirical comedy, nor is it whimsical enough to pass as a decent fantasy, but most of all it is too dense to truly have fun with its own ideas. It keeps the central concept and its many attributed conversation points purely at surface level, only barely denting the ground in its attempts to dig any deeper, which result in a lot of these ideas and even many of the central characters coming off as emptier and more superfluous than they may have originally intended to be.

Furthermore, there is something off about Libii’s direction, as it lacks the liveliness and energy that is required to make this fantastical world at the very least feel interesting, with scenes that should generate some sort of whimsy seeming much sleepier on the screen. Even the romance that the filmmaker chooses to focus most of the narrative on is strangely unengaging, for while it is not without its moments of charm thanks to a couple sparks of chemistry between the actors, there is little drive to it that makes the viewer truly want to see them end up together, not to mention the fact that there are some wild things which happen between them (often to do with one’s newfound magic abilities) that are easily forgiven for the sake of a more positive conclusion, whereas in reality they would never hear the end of it.

It is a film that always seems to be on the edge of becoming a bloated corpse, kept alive only by the sheer power of its outstanding concept, which deserves a better overall execution than the one given here. Ultimately, and somewhat ironically, The American Society of Magical Negroes desperately needed a Jordan Peele or Spike Lee equivalent to come on board and dramatically spice up this material, in order to drive it toward a more sustainable direction that says what it needs to say while still remembering to be an entertaining film in its own right.

Unfortunately, in its current form, it’s a film that is itself in desperate need of saving.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The American Society of Magical Negroes disappointingly wastes an excellent concept on a near-lifeless execution, with Kobi Lifii’s script and direction lacking the appropriate amount of laughs and whimsy to elevate the central premise to the compelling and entertaining heights that it sets for itself.

Two out of five stars

JustWatch


JustWatch

Other recent reviews:

Sting (2024, dir. Kiah Roache-Turner)

A mysterious little spider soon grows to terrifying sizes…

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024, dir. George Miller)

A young Furiosa attempts to make her way home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland…

The Garfield Movie (2024, dir. Mark Dindal)

The lazy cat Garfield comes face-to-face with his long-lost father…

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024, dir. Renny Harlin)

A couple find themselves tormented by masked intruders…

IF (2024, dir. John Krasinski)

A young girl develops the ability to see people’s imaginary friends…

Hoard (2024, dir. Luna Carmoon)

A troubled teen begins a dysfunctional relationship with an older man…

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024, dir. Wes Ball)

Many years after the reign of Caesar, an ape-ruled kingdom comes under threat…

The Fall Guy (2024, dir. David Leitch)

A Hollywood stuntman winds up on an epic misadventure during his latest gig…

Tarot (2024, dirs. Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg)

A group of teenagers find themselves haunted after messing with spiritual tarot cards…

The Idea of You (2024, dir. Michael Showalter)

A 40-year-old single mother begins a relationship with a much younger pop star…

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *