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What would you do if you became a magical negro with superpowers in an instant? But there’s a catch… you can only use them to make white people comfortable.

Source: Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty

First-time director and writer, Kobi Libii’s The American Society of Magical Negroes follows Aren (Justice Smith) into a magical universe where Black people are given supernatural abilities and his mentor Roger, played by David Alan Grier, teaches him how to use them for the comfort of white people. The movie is based on the “Magical Negro” trope that is used in literature and film when a Black character is used for support and uses their skills and ability to assist white characters in need.

BOSSIP caught up with the film’s cast at the premiere in New York City. On the red carpet, Justice Smith talked to us about signing off on his role because he saw himself in Aren.

“I grew up in a very white space. So I understood what it’s ‘ike to survive socially in a white environment. So I knew I could play the complexity of his psychology of, “maybe if I just treat them a little nicer, they’ll pay me respect,’ even though that never happens. If anything, it just allows them to disrespect you further. I understood those layers, I felt like I could do justice. No pun intended.”

Smith also opened up about when he broke away from the magical negro trope in his own life.

“When I got out of that place. I grew up in Orange County. It was a dark time, honestly. But I didn’t really experience liberation until I left. And I started to meet people like me and find community, community is so healing.”

The legendary David Alan Grier, and certified #BossipFam member, stopped by to chat with us about the new film and why as a seasoned actor, he chose to work with a first-time writer and director.

“I like doing that, I call it subversive mentoring. So one of the things I was trying to do with Kobi is give him the respect on set and his leadership. Because that’s the way a set is supposed to be, and this is his first time film and he’s unfettered.” Grier said. “He’s just trying to get his voice out, but at the end of the day, it’s the script, the character. I really responded to this character. I know older black guys like this (Roger), especially when I was younger.”

The Tony Award-winner also dove into his approach to this satirical film as an entertainer and comedian with four decades of experience.

“From the lion in “The Wiz,” to this, to “A Soldier’s Play”, I really try to find the humanity in all characters and try to make them as complete as possible,” the Tony Award-winner said. “Now if it’s a comedy, the comedy I just find lands more legitimately when it is backed up with all of this. A lot of it the audience doesn’t need to know, but I need to know in order to bring it to life, so it’s always trying to create and show a complete character. It’s fun to be a caricature, but we know people like that.”

Another comedian in this cast is TV and podcast host Nicole Byer, who pulled from her own personal experience for her role as Dede, the president of the American Society of Magical Negroes.

“The whole Magical Negro trope is what I’ve had to audition for my whole life. The fat, funny, best friend who literally has nothing to strive for in her own life because there’s no back story. Sometimes she doesn’t even have a last name,” The Nailed It host said. “I’ve auditioned for like truck driver or like, she looks like a linebacker but somehow still gets f****d. And she’s like the butt of jokes. And so I got to bring that into it and that was fun.”

Byer also raved about the film’s director, Kobi Libii. “Kobi, the director and the writer was really wonderful and trusted me to create this character from the ground up.”

On the carpet, Libii was open to discussing the online discourse surrounding the film’s trailer -specifically around the interracial love story.

“A lot of the conversations that came up, they’re about colorism, about interracial relationships, you know, and the work of centering darker skinned black people is incredibly important work in film the work of centering black love stories is incredibly important work in film and I believe in a lot of movies that are doing that work,” Libii said.

“I think the biggest thing in some ways that was challenging about the trailer is that when we look at black superheroes, a lot of what we want to see is Black people using their superpowers to be sort of past systemic racism. Like the Wakandas of the world. And in my movie, it’s a satire. Black people are using their superpowers to in some ways to aid and abet systemic racism and it’s a satire to criticize movement through the world that way. But I still think that’s a really challenging thing for a lot of audiences to see, especially in the limited context of the trailer.”

Libii also discussed his hopes for the audience to watch the film in its entirety.

“I believe every single person that criticized this film is going to find more kinship in the values of the actual film once they see the whole thing. So I invite those conversations that came out of the trailer and I just really hope that people will see the whole film, which I believe is a lot more nuanced and has a lot more detail, a lot more specificity.”

The American Society of Magical Negroes is now available to stream on Universal Pictures Home Entertainment


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