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Justice Smith & An-Li Bogan on The American Society of Magical Negroes

Mar 11, 2024


The American Society of Magical Negroes cleverly satirizes a film trope first criticized by filmmaker Spike Lee. A “magical negro” is a stereotypical Black supporting character who exists solely to aid a white protagonist. Forrest Gump, The Green Mile, and The Legend of Bagger Vance are well-known examples. Writer/director Kobi Libii, also an accomplished actor, takes aim at Hollywood and American culture in general with a humorous and romantic twist.

Justice Smith stars as Aren, a struggling Black yarn artist. Yup – you read that right. He defers to a white man who mistakes him for a server. Roger, played by the superb David Alan Grier, witnesses this interaction. He invites Aren to join The American Society of Magical Negroes, a secret organization that has existed since Jefferson was president. Their goal: alleviating white tension and discomfort to prevent Black people from getting hurt.

An-Li Bogan, in her film debut, co-stars as Lizzie, Aren’s colleague on his first assignment at a start-up tech company. Aren’s mission to help Jason (Drew Tarver) succeed becomes complicated. He and Lizzie fall in love despite Jason’s feelings for her. Aren endangers The American Society of Magical Negroes if he pursues Lizzie and lets Jason fail. The rub is that everyone loses their magic if a member betrays the cause.

Controversial Themes in The American Society of Magical Negroes

MovieWeb: I laughed myself into the ground in this film. But I’m going to start with a hard question. I was so surprised by the amount of negative reactions online when the trailer was first released. What can you say to people who are basically casting aspersions without seeing it?

Justice Smith: I think that it’s fair. I think that, specifically Black audiences, Hollywood has not done right by Black people a lot of times. Black audiences are, of course, going to be skeptical when they see a movie about race. That hesitancy is understandable. I’m empathetic to that. I think that once they see the movie, they’ll realize that it’s something other than what they expect. Hopefully, but if they don’t, I think that’s fair too. In order to expand the monolith of what Black art is, we have to have a bunch of different artists saying a bunch of different things, nuanced things about this experience.

Justice Smith: It’s incredibly important to highlight the revolutionary, to highlight Black empowerment. But I’ve never really seen a story about what it means to just survive, what it means to just navigate microaggression in a corporate space. So I’m happy that this exists in its own avenue. Black art doesn’t have to be a checklist [that] represents every single Black person in America. It could just represent a specific Black experience and shed light on that in order to break apart that monolith. I think that’s what Kobi is doing.

MW: An-Li, what do you think?

An-Li Bogan: Well, I don’t have social media, and I don’t like being online. So, I was informed of this controversy. I think it’s great. I think, as an artist, how the audience responds, that’s what you want. Everyone’s entitled to their own reaction and opinion, unfounded or not. And so, I’m excited to be a part of something that is generating this much conversation. That’s really exciting to me.

Related Black History Month: 15 Movies that Capture Black Joy Here are the best movies showcasing Black joy to check out this Black History Month.

A Special Relationship

MW: Let’s talk about your director, Kobi Libii. He’s a working actor, like you guys…

An-Li Bogan: That’s right (laughs).

MW: He’s been through the grind as a Black actor trying to audition for roles and maybe getting stereotyped in a way that’s uncool. But he uses the second act of the film to really develop this beautiful romance between Lizzie and Aren. That caught me by surprise because it’s actually the majority of the story. Talk about you two working together on those scenes.

Related 14 Black Romance Movies You Should Watch Around Valentine’s Day Here’s a list of fourteen fantastic Black romance movies to watch on or around Valentine’s Day.

Justice Smith: I loved working with An-Li. She’s incredibly present. She’s an amazing actor. This is her first film, which was a surprise to me and a lot of people who’ve seen her performance in this film. I think she has a real gift of oscillating between comedy and drama. And just prioritizing truth, I think she’s really good at that. It made it really easy to play off of her and for our chemistry to develop naturally. Right?

An-Li Bogan: Yeah, keep going (laughs). Justice was not just easy to work with, but just like a joy. It was my first. I felt taken care of. I felt like you were kind of looking out for me a little bit on set. I don’t know if you were conscious of that.

Justice Smith: I was.

An-Li Bogan: So that’s always a gift. Then that translated to our scenes, too. These characters, part of what makes our relationship unique, is that there’s an active interest in taking care of the other. That’s really special.

The American Society of Magical Negroes will be released in theaters on Mar. 15 from Focus Features.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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