In Cord Jefferson’s “American Fiction,” Jeffrey Wright plays an exceptionally intelligent Black academic who achieves popular success by simplifying his writing to fit the stereotype of Black people held by white audiences. The performance is getting Oscar buzz. Many have applauded the film, which took home the People’s Choice Award at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, for its dismemberment of the boxes that Black writers and artists are frequently put in.
Wright related an instance in which he was similarly prevented from expressing himself in an interview he did to advertise the movie with Entertainment Weekly. Wright was ordered to overdub an incident in which the protagonist constantly uses a racist slur after shooting Ang Lee’s 1999 Western “Ride with the Devil,” in which he played a previous slave who fought guerilla warfare conflicts in the American Civil War beside the man who purchased his liberation from slavery. The actor claimed that he declined because he thought the word’s use was aesthetically essential, even though the reduction was meant for cable TV and airline distributions with tougher censorship regulations.
“In this scene in which he has this, kind of the apex of his awakening and his need to emancipate himself, he says, ‘Being that man’s friend was no more than being his n—–. And I will never again be anyone’s n—–,’” Wright remarked. “And it’s such a self-empowering statement and understanding of the word. Wright claimed that an actor was brought in to dub the phrase in his stead when he declined. He clarified that he still saw the incident as an illustration of how the media industry has fought to preserve people’s capacity to be ignorant about touchy subjects.
“I said, ‘Nah. That’s not happening.’ And they found some other actor to come in and do that one word, apparently,” he claimed. “So that the airplane folk would be comfy in the darkness of their own ignorance around the language of race.”