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The American Society of Magical Negroes review – hit-and-miss satire

Sundance film festival: A provocative comedy, imagining a Harry Potter-esque academy poking fun at a well-worn stereotype, has its moments

Make no mistake: The American Society of Magical Negroes, the debut film from the writer-director Kobi Libii, is trying to be provocative. It’s openly prodding the idea of comfort in text and in title, which cites the term popularized by Spike Lee for the Hollywood trope of saintly, lone Black characters who exist to assist the white protagonist’s journey without any interiority of their own. Libii is taking a big, ambitious satirical swing by literalizing that into an actual secret society in which magic-equipped Black people provide “client services” to upset white people in the name of safety. The trailer, which would lead one to believe that a Harry Potter-type boy wonder finds love while relieving white discomfort, predictably inflamed the Fox News crowd and drew heated skepticism and fatigue on social media.

Some wariness is fair, given that the race satire is a tricky art to pull off, and that cracks at the type of 2020-ish corporate micro-aggressions and mealy-mouthed contrition are a quickly tiresome cliche unto itself. But I’m pleased to report that the actual film, which premiered at the Sundance film festival, is sharper and less saccharine than the trailer would suggest, if uneven and plagued by the same issues of characterization it derides. I was not surprised to the learn that Libii initially intended the idea of real society of white guilt-assuaging Black people to be a short; the feature has the unwieldy feel of a sleek, small comedy vehicle tricked out with a bunch of eye-catching gags to fill space.

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