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Friday, September 22, 2023

“‘American Fiction’ Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Fest”

American Fiction,” a satirical exploration of race, media, and the consumption of Black culture by white audiences, solidified its position as an early Oscars frontrunner by winning the prestigious top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday.

The film, directed by Cord Jefferson in his debut feature, follows the journey of Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison (played by Jeffrey Wright), an author and university professor who faces criticism from his publishers, claiming his writing lacks sufficient “Blackness.” To prove a point, he adopts a pseudonym and pens a novel laden with stereotypical ideas about African American life, which surprisingly becomes a massive success. This success attracts producers and forces Ellison to grapple with the consequences of his actions.

Adapted from Percival Everett’s novel “Erasure,” the film, created by 41-year-old Jefferson—an Emmy-winning writer known for his work on series like “Succession” and “Watchmen”—examines the concept of authenticity in American culture.

Reflecting on the film’s journey, Jefferson remarked, “When I made the film, I wasn’t yet contemplating how it would resonate when it entered the broader world.” This statement was conveyed by festival CEO Cameron Bailey during Sunday’s awards ceremony.

“The film now rests in your hands, and I’m profoundly thankful for the warm reception it has received. I share this achievement with our remarkable cast, led by the talented Jeffrey Wright.”

Having had its world premiere in Toronto, the film is set for a wide North American release in November.

The People’s Choice Award, voted for by audiences at North America’s largest film festival, has become a reliable indicator of early Oscars success, often predicting eventual Academy Award best picture winners like “Nomadland” and “Green Book.” Notably, “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Slumdog Millionaire” also embarked on their journeys to Oscars best picture glory after winning the Toronto prize.

On Sunday, the first runner-up prize went to Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” a dramedy set in a 1970s New England prep school, while second runner-up honors were awarded to Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron.”

Running from September 7 to Sunday, TIFF is renowned for attracting both A-list stars and avid cinephiles eager to preview films before their general release.

Despite the Hollywood actors’ and writers’ strikes, several notable figures promoted their work in Canada’s largest city, either due to interim agreements with unions or their roles as directors or producers. Some films shown at TIFF were exempt from the strikes, as they were independently or internationally produced.

Among the celebrities gracing the TIFF red carpet were Sean Penn, Sylvester Stallone, Taika Waititi, Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, Salma Hayek Pinault, Jessica Chastain, Ethan Hawke, Dakota Johnson, and Elliot Page.

Music stars Lil Nas X and Paul Simon also visited Toronto to promote new documentaries about their careers.

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