Bitingly Comical Social Satire THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF MAGICAL NEGROES Hits Home Video

David Alan Grier is back.

Well, technically the beloved character actor was never really gone, but he may have felt that way to movie goers. His extensive work on stage (where he picked up a 2021 Tony Award for A Soldier’s Play) and on television had reduced his cinematic output, especially in recent years.

But since last year he has returned to the movies in a big way, with memorable supporting turns in The Color Purple, They Cloned Tyrone, and Candy Cane Lane. The resurgence continues with his biggest film role in quite a long time, in The American Society of Magical Negroes.

As should be plainly evident by the film’s title, this social satire is a play on the common trope of the “Magical Negro” character, the sort of wise and inoffensive black character whose narrative existence is positioned to prop up their white protagonists. Some more familiar examples would include Michael Clarke Duncan’s character in The Green Mile, Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, and Scatman Crothers in The Shining and Twilight Zone. While these are all wonderful characters and actors, an overall narrative throughline that has emerged across many of these kinds of stories is one of palatable black sacrifice in service to an inherent white importance.

Justice Smith plays Aren, a biracial artist who is constantly aware of his blackness and of white discomfort, and lives an overly accommodating and apologetic existence as a result. Unbeknownst to him, his awkward social practice is observed by Roger, a member of a clandestine order that recruits him as a member of the American Society of Magical Negroes: black men and women who tap into magic to secretly help ease white discomfort – because white discomfort leads to more overt racism and violence. A hilarious orientation presents familiar references including a send-up of The Green Mile. Their goal, they argue, is not servitude to white people, but to ultimately make black people safer.

The setup feels very much like a full-length version of a Key and Peele sketch, and in fact Key and Peele actually have previously done a “Magical Negro” themed gag as well as a Harry Potter parody depicting an “Inner City Wizard School”. The film feels like a similar concept in spirit, filtered through a send-up of Kingsman: The Secret Service, the spy action-comedy in which Colin Firth recruits a young Targon Egerton to join a top-secret English spy service (an organization which, I think it’s worth noting, were almost entirely white guys while their villain was a black man played by Samuel L. Jackson).

Aren is quickly swept up into this rare and important work, but his very first job presents a huge challenge: working in a tech startup experiencing a diversity-related PR crisis under their Elon Musk-esque founder and figurehead. Even worse, Aren falls in love the same woman as his “client”, even though his job is to be the wingman, causing a very awkward love triangle and putting him at risk of putting himself before his client – an infraction which can disrupt the flow of magic for not only himself but for the entire Society.

As a satire, the film is not really quite as deeply incisive as I expected, and most of its theme is somewhat on-the-nose. But that’s not really a drawback because it’s very funny going about it, and also happens to work well on a story level. Aren is a relatable protagonist and his journey of discovery and personal growth is really compelling – you’re rooting for him all the way.

David Alan Grier, clearly no stranger to racial satire (In Living Color, They Cloned Tyrone, and the best part of Amazon Women on the Moon), is unsurprisingly a stellar presence, both sympathetic as a mentor to Aren and unwavering in his devotion to the Society and its mission. It just makes me happy to see him in a lot of movies again, and in a pretty complex role.

There hasn’t really been a lot of buzz around this film, but I found it really rewarding.

The Package

The American Society of Magical Negroes is now available on Blu-ray from Universal. The Blu-ray, which is branded as a “Collector’s Edition”, includes a Movies Anywhere digital copy. My copy of the Blu-ray came with a slipcover.

Special Features and Extras

  • Feature Commentary with Director/Writer/Producer Kobi Libii
  • Featurettes
    Three featurettes explore the film’s cast of characters, creation, and themes. Although they’re relatively short, many of the cast and crew are featured and there re some fun and informative recountings.
    • Secret Society Members (5:20)
    • Crafting a Magical Society (4:14)
    • Speaking Your Truth (4:14)

    A/V Out.

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    Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and web imaging.

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