Cord Jefferson

Screenwriter and Director
Headshot of a man.

Photo by Dennis Gocer

Music Credit: “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T from the cd Soul Sand. Used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Jo Reed:  From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed

Cord Jefferson:  You know, people say "This is your first movie. You got this tremendous ensemble," and the thing that I say is "Look what happens when you write real roles for black people, when you really give people substantial characters who feel real and who feel dynamic and who feel complex and nuanced and multilayered and who have beginning, middles and ends and real stories to tell, and they're not just there to come out and say some expository dialogue and then they either disappear or die while the white lead goes to save the day."

Jo Reed:  That is Cord Jefferson—he wrote the screenplay and directed the film “American Fiction.” Based on the novel “Erasure” by Percival Everett, “American Fiction” is a satirical examination of the ways in which Black people are often seen in very narrow and limiting perspectives in popular culture embedded in a complex and rich family story. Boasting an formidable cast led by Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction” opened to critical acclaim and has gone on to be nominated for awards from nearly every major film guild and association —including the Sag Awards, Bafta, Spirit Awards, the NAACP Image Awards—culminating in five academy award nominations including Jeffrey Wright as Best Actor, Sterling K Brown for Best supporting actor, Jefferson for best adapted screenplay  and the biggie: a nomination for best picture of the year. Not bad for first-time screenwriter/director Cord Jefferson. 

I am a long-time fan of Cord Jefferson’s work in television. In fact, he was a guest on the podcast right before the pandemic talking about writing for shows like Succession, Master of NoneThe Good Place, and, most particularly, the ground-breaking series Watchmen for which he won an Emmy Award.  That conversation stayed with me because of his thoughtfulness, curiosity, and enthusiasm. So after seeing “American Fiction,” I was eager to speak with Cord Jefferson again about his film that had me laughing, crying, and thinking. He was gracious enough to join me. Here’s our conversation….

Jo Reed:  Cord Jefferson, "American Fiction" is based on Percival Everett's book "Erasure," which was published in 2001, and I'm curious when you read the book and if there was this instant recognition that you wanted to make it into a film.

Cord Jefferson:  Yes, I would say that it really was almost instant. I would say within 50 pages I was already reaching out to my manager and saying that I think I'd found my next creative project. Within, I would say, 100 pages I was thinking that I might want to direct this, not just write the script, and then at a certain point, I don't even remember when in the novel, I started reading the novel in Jeffrey Wright's voice. That's how early I started thinking of Jeffrey for the project. I just started picturing him in every scene for whatever reason. So, yeah, by the time that I was done with it I almost felt jumpy, like there was this kind of unstoppable energy in me. I was kind of bouncing off the walls because I felt so excited about this project, but it was still the holidays, and so I had to wait another couple weeks before I could even reach out to the author to ask for the rights, it felt electrified in my hands when I was reading it.

Jo Reed:  Okay, what about the book spoke to you so deeply?

Cord Jefferson:  Everything basically. So for people who haven't read "Erasure," it's about this Black novelist, Monk, who writes books that people think are not Black enough, and so to kind of fight back against them he tries to pull this prank in which he writes this very, very stereotypically trope-y Black book, so to speak, and it's full of violence and young Black men impregnating women and drug use and what I think we all understand to be stereotypically, quote-unquote, "Black stories," and he writes this thinking that it's going to be this piece of performance art, a prank on the industry, and it ends up becoming his best-selling book.  And he exists between these two worlds for the story in which he resents that the book is becoming this huge bestseller while also requiring the money that the book provides. And so those kinds of conversations about the limitations people put on Black artists, the limited perspective or the limited imagination that people have about what Black life looks like, about what Black writers can do, that's stuff that I'd been thinking about since I was a journalist. I'd been talking with my colleagues about that all the way back when I was writing for newspapers. I started working in film and TV in 2014, so for nine years before that I was working as a journalist, and then when I started working in film and TV I thought "Great, this is the world of fiction. I can write about whatever I want to write about. I can write about Black people in space. We can write about Black people in the underworld. It doesn't matter." And lo and behold, it wasn't long before people were coming to me and saying "Well, do you want to write a movie about slavery? Do you want to write a movie about a young Black person being killed by the police? Do you want to write a movie about a drug dealer?" And it felt like even here, even in the world of fantasy and fiction when we can write about anything we want to write about, there's no limitations, we are not beholden to reality, there was still this very limited perspective as to what Black writers could do and what Black life looked like, and so those themes were huge. Those really stuck out to me when I was reading the novel, and then on top of that Monk has two siblings. I have two siblings. We have our weird sibling sort of trio dynamic where sometimes we're closer, sometimes we're more distant. Monk has a very, very overbearing father figure. I have a very overbearing father figure. I love him very much, but he's admitted that he's overbearing. Monk moves home to take care of his ailing mother in the story, and I had moved home to take care of my ailing mother eight years ago. My mother died of cancer. So the Venn diagram between my life and Monk's life was a circle the more that I read the book, and it just felt like I couldn't get over this idea that somebody had written this book specifically for me. That's how it felt. It just felt like kismet in that way.

Jo Reed:  Well, "American Fiction" is your first film both as a writer and as a director, and it's an unusual film. It's a pointed criticism of culture and at the way the ideas of race gets flattened in cultural institutions, as you just said, and it's also this very complicated family story, and I have to ask you about the process of finding backing for it for you as a first-time writer and director of the film and a film that you can't categorize very easily.

Cord Jefferson:  Yeah, yeah. It wasn't easy. <laughs> Well, on the one hand, it was both easy and not easy, and I'll explain. And so on the one hand, this movie was made very quickly. The time between me picking up the book the first time-- that was December of 2020, and the movie was in theaters as of December 2023, so altogether that's three years from the very kernel of the idea to full execution, the movie being out, which is very, very fast in this industry. Some movies take seven, 10, 15 years to get made, and so I was very fortunate in that way. But the movie was made very quickly thanks to like three people, because the vast majority of people I took this script to passed. I would say that 98 percent of the meetings that I ended up having with distributors ended up with them saying, "This is one of my favorite scripts that I've read in years. Oh, my God, I love this script." By that time we had Jeffrey Wright attached. People were very effusive in their praise of Jeffrey.Then when I said "Well, great, you love the script. You love the actor. Can I get money to make the movie?" it was just kind of crickets. There wasn't really a major response there. I always knew that this industry was risk-averse, but I think that was the first time that I understood exactly how risk-averse the industry is and how afraid people are of trying new things and sort of taking risks on new artists, and fortunately we brought the project to Orion, where Alana Mayo presides, and Alana Mayo is a Black woman, and I think Alana Mayo saw something that other people didn't see, and so she believed in the film from the beginning and was just a huge advocate.. So I was very fortunate to find Alana and a handful of others at T-Street, the production company, and MRC, our financier, who really sort of believed in this and got it on its feet in a real way, because without them, this town was pretty chilly in its reception to this material. So, yeah, I just feel very fortunate we got it in front of Alana and the rest of the team.

Jo Reed:  You also have the most extraordinary cast for a first-time filmmaker. You have Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae, Leslie Uggams, Erika Alexander. You have Keith David just playing this tiny, tiny little part.

Cord Jefferson:  Yeah. <laughs> Exactly. 

Jo Reed:  How did you get them all onboard?

Cord Jefferson:  You know, people say "This is your first movie. You got this tremendous ensemble," and the thing that I say is "Look what happens when you write real roles for Black people, when you really give people substantial characters who feel real and who feel dynamic and who feel complex and nuanced and multilayered and who have beginning, middles and ends and real stories to tell, and they're not just there to come out and say some expository dialogue and then they either disappear or die while the white lead goes to save the day." And this isn't just sort of my assumption: This is what the actors told me themselves, that these roles don't come along for them. I get a little emotional when I think about it actually that John Ortiz, who plays Arthur, Monk's agent-- he's wonderful in the role, and he said a few weeks ago at a press conference…  he said he read the script and then he called his representatives and he said "Wait a minute. He wants me to play the agent?" And his agent said "Yeah," and he said "Nobody ever asked me to just play the agent." He said this idea that he was being asked to just play a guy, just a regular human being, and there was nothing in the story about his tragic circumstances of being an inner-city Puerto Rican kid who had experienced violence or poverty-- like none of that came to bear on this role. We just wanted him to be this lovely book agent who had this great relationship with Monk who really wanted him to succeed, and they had this wonderful, rich backstory of supporting each other in their early days. He said that he was amazed that somebody was offering him this part and that somebody had written this role and we didn't have to talk about all of these sort of traditional issues that people might put in of identity and violence and tragedy just because he was a Puerto Rican man, and I think that that to me was so meaningful, to hear the actors say that, and I think that that is what the actors themselves felt. Erika Alexander, who plays the love interest, Coraline-- I was talking to Erika, and she said something similar. She said  "This actually just feels so much like me," and Erika's first three roles when she was starting out in her career were a foster child, a prostitute and a slave and this happens for a lot of actors of color, that they're not really asked to just portray layered and nuanced, fully realized human beings. They're asked to portray these kind of caricatures of what life might look like and these very limited perspectives of what their lives look like, and so I think that that's how we got it. It's just I gave Black actors real roles. I think that that is how I was fortunate enough to get the ensemble that I got.

Jo Reed:  Well, the movie certainly is publishing and moviemaking culture writ large, of course, in its sights, and you created a very pointed satire, which isn't easy, because it also needs to stay grounded. How did you manage that balance?

Cord Jefferson:  It was a process. So you try to find it in the script stage. From the outset, before I even started writing the script, I knew I wanted to make something that felt satirical but not farcical. That was always my goal.  I watched some satire movies before I started writing, and I think a lot of satire intentionally or unintentionally becomes farcical. Sometimes it's a directorial decision, and sometimes I think that it gets a little too unwieldy for the creators, and it becomes farce. I wanted to avoid that, because I think that this is a story that could actually happen in the real world, and I wanted to acknowledge that sort of in the creation of the film. So I tried to find it on the page. They say you make a movie three times. It's in the writing, it's in the shooting and then it's in the editing, and so then we tried to find it on set, and sometimes things got a little too dark. Sometimes they got a little too light, and we had to rein it in, but we really, really found the tone of the film in post. That was the place that we were able to really refine it, sand down the edges, cut the stuff that was too broad comedically and started to feel silly, cut the stuff that got too dark and started to feel like "Well, it's hard to pull out of this dive that we're in to sort of move on to something else," and so that's where we really refined it and sort of found this balance between the humor, the pathos, the balance between the family stuff and the professional stuff. That all really sort of came to be in the edit. I had this wonderful editor named Hilda Rasula, who really, really helped me balance those things and really helped me find the tone of the movie. There's some really, really great stuff that we left on the cutting room floor, really great stuff, and I would watch it and I would say "This is really great, but this isn't the movie. This is really great for a different movie." That's really where "kill your darlings" comes to bear, is that you need to look at something and say "Yes, this is wonderful, but this is wonderful for a different project. This is not wonderful for this project." And so that's where a lot of the stuff ended up getting cut, was like "This is great. It's just not the movie that we are making."

Jo Reed:  Well, within the satire or surrounding the satire, I mean, enmeshed in it is this rich, complicated story of Monk's family life and issues among siblings and an aging parent, and they're all very successful professionally, but 24/7 care is an expensive proposition. I don't care who you are. So we're laughing about the satirical professional side of things, and at the same time our hearts are just so moved by this family, so again you're blending not just satire in a family story but the professional and the personal too.

Cord Jefferson:  Yeah, and I think that that's important. My favorite movies are ones that feel like life, and life is neither comedy nor tragedy. It's neither professional nor personal. It's all of these things. It's everything at once, right? It all comes at you at once, and you need to juggle these things, and that's what sort of Monk is doing. Monk is living a complex, difficult and funny but also tragic life, as we all do, and so I wanted to make sure that this movie felt like somebody's actual life, and there have been moments when my professional life has been chaos and I need to deal with that personally and vice-versa, and I think that I wanted to reflect that. One of the sort of important things about the story was to show the fully realized breadth and depth of Black life. And so to do that you really have to explore every facet of their lives and to acknowledge that this is a full human being, that these are full human beings. And just on a technical writing level, I also think that the family stuff really helps ground the film. A lot of people tried to convince me to cut out a lot of the family stuff, for instance, Lorraine and Maynard, that sort of love story, the romance that blossoms in the film. 

Jo Reed:  And Lorraine is the long-time housekeeper for the family

Cord Jefferson:  Yes. A lot of people read the script and said "Well, why do you need this? You know, these are ancillary characters. This is a tangent. Who cares if they get married? It's going to be expensive. It's going to take more time." And every time I heard that I was just like "Absolutely not. There's no way I'm getting rid of those characters. I don't care if you think that they're ancillary. The intention is to show the diversity and sort of like reflect the fullness of Black life." And to me to limit the character of Lorraine to just the housekeeper who comes out and says some exposition and then disappears into the background while everybody else does their thing-- I know that most movies would treat Lorraine like that. I know that the vast majority of films would treat this housekeeper character as if she was just there to maybe come out and say a couple quick jokes and give some exposition and then go away, and I felt like it's important to the film and it's important to me to not make that exact same decision, because I know that that's the decision that a lot of directors would make. So I felt like that stuff really grounds the satire, right? I think that it allows us to be funny and to have these really funny comedic scenes but then also follow them up with things that end up grounding it immediately thereafter so that it doesn't feel, again, like the entire story is collapsing under the weight of the comedy and it's becoming slapsticky and silly. Again, it's satire but not farce.

Jo Reed:  Well, that's actually one of the things I appreciated so much about the film, is that the characters you created, even the smaller characters, just seem so full. Even though they have very little screen time, they're really realized, and Myra Lucretia Taylor, who plays Lorraine, for me was a beating heart of the film...

Cord Jefferson:  Absolutely.

Jo Reed:  ...and I could look at that face forever. 

Cord Jefferson:  Absolutely, and I don't know if you remember when he walks into the house and you hear her sort of like squeal with delight at seeing Jeffrey. That was the first scene we shot with Myra and Jeffrey and Tracee, and Jeffrey said that as soon as he heard her voice-- he said he just felt like he was at home. He said it was such a huge moment for his character walking into that house, because that's the first time we were shooting in that house too. He said "As soon as I heard her voice I just felt like `Yes, I'm at home. This is so welcoming and warm, and this is the exact emotion that I wanted to feel in this moment.'" And so, yeah, she represents to me unconditional love in the film. These are children raised in a house where the love was conditional. They were raised by parents whose love was conditional and who could be frigid at times, and so this is a person who's able to look at them as they are and meet them where they are in the world and love them no matter what, and that's deeply important to the story for me.

Jo Reed:  Well, Jeffrey Wright is such an extraordinary actor, and I really also appreciated how much space you gave that performance...

Cord Jefferson:  Thank you. 

Jo Reed:  ...and let it really breathe. So there's so many close-ups, and he's one of those actors who can be completely still and still convey multitudes.

Cord Jefferson:  Absolutely. No, it's wonderful. I said that Jeffrey does stuff with his eyebrows in this movie  that some actors can't do with their entire bodies, so he's just truly brilliant, and that's something that I learned really quickly on set, was I was like "I don't want to shoot this now like a traditional comedy. I don't want to edit this like a traditional comedy where we're doing fast cuts back and forth and you're looking at everybody saying their lines."  Some of the best moments and the funniest moments to me in the film are when we just linger on Jeffrey's face and see his response to the punch line. It's like the punch line is funny, but it's enhanced by Jeffrey's facial expressions and his response to the madness that's going on around him. One of my favorite scenes in the film is that first scene when Jeffrey walks into the book festival event where Issa Rae's character, Sintara, is reading an excerpt of her book, and Jeffrey says not a single word in that scene, and yet he steals the show in some ways just because he's so funny. Just what he does with his face and just the acting that he does just looking around wordlessly is so phenomenal and so great and so funny despite the fact that he's just standing there. It's amazing.

Jo Reed: Well, I think an important moment in the film is when  Jeffrey, Monk, has a  one-on-one conversation with Sintara, who, as you say, is played by Issa Rae, who's written this very popular book that seems to be conveying all the Black tropes that Monk is pushing up against, and it's such an interesting conversation, beginning with Monk being quite righteous about her book, which we might add he has not read. 

Cord Jefferson:  Yes, exactly. I'm happy you caught that. Some people don't catch that. <laughs>

Jo Reed:  But then he and we, the audience, too I think are schooled by her. Suddenly she comes back at him, and it's a lot more complicated than he was giving her credit for and I think it's fair to say that the audience was giving her credit for.

Cord Jefferson:  Absolutely. That's one of the reasons why I really love that scene. Jeffrey and I-- when we first set out to make the film, I had been thinking about this when I was writing the script, and one of the first things that Jeffrey asked me when we first met to talk about the film,  he said "I just want to make sure you're not interested in making some sort of respectability politics, `Pull up your pants and behave in front of white people, and this is how you behave to be a good Black person. This is the kind of art you make to be a good Black artist.'" We never wanted the movie to be scolding, and so to me it was very, very important to not make Sintara into this one-note villain and have Monk be this righteous crusader. When I was reading the novel I was really, really looking forward to this clash when we would see these two artists come at each other with their own ideologies about what it means to be a Black artist and what it means to make Black art. I was so looking forward to that, and it never came, so that scene is not actually in the novel, and so I was craving it so much that I knew when I sat down to write the script I had to include it somewhere. So what I really like about that scene that you're getting at is that the tables are turned on Monk in that scene. All of a sudden Monk, who's so pugnacious, and he steamrolls his students, he steamrolls his colleagues, he steamrolls his family, steamrolls his girlfriend-- he's just a very sort of combative guy who always manages to get the last word. And all of a sudden here's this woman that you assume the entire movie is going to be sort of the foe that our hero Monk comes in and needs to save, and in that moment when you realize like "Oh, she's a lot more thoughtful about this than we had considered before, and she's smart, and she's really given this some consideration"-- all of a sudden when Monk feels the tables turn some people in the audience are probably feeling the tables turn too. Some people in the audience have probably been lulled into this idea that she is this caricature and she's ridiculous and she's the villain, and all of a sudden it's like "Oh, this becomes far more complicated than I thought, and she's far more complex than I thought." That to me was really, really important, A, just to sort of make sure that we weren't commenting on what art was good or bad, but, B, just because I think most arguments in movies need to be draws. That's sort of like how you make the most interesting scene. You need to come at it from "What would this person say to get me on their side?" And I think it's important to make sure that everybody in the scene is smart and has good arguments, and sort of for this film especially I never wanted it to feel like it was spoon-feeding you answers. I never wanted it to feel didactic. This is not an op-ed column. It is a movie that allows you to think for yourself, and so that scene was important to get to that point where it's allowing people to think for themselves.

Jo Reed: Well, a similar moment in the film is when Monk is writing his book.  In "Erasure" Percival Everett includes the parody Monk writes

Cord Jefferson:  Yes. The entirety of the novel is within the novel, yeah.   

Jo Reed:  But you obviously can’t do that in the movie—you choose a different way to convey Monk’s book

Cord Jefferson:  Yeah. So as a writer, I'm always very critical of writing scenes in film and television, because so many of them are just some writer beating furiously at their keyboard and writing a mile a minute and then turning and chugging some Black coffee and then getting back into it, and for me writing has always been a practice of deep insecurity, of pain, of real frustration, and so I wanted to make something that, A, sort of like actually reflected what the writing was to me and what writers are to me, but then, B, as you said, we have the entirety of the novel within the novel, and I knew that that's not cinematic and we couldn't understand the gravity of that, and so it was important to have a scene that had the same gravity and sort of had the audience leaning-in the way that the entirety of that novel within the novel had me leaning-in. So what I came up with was manifesting the characters that Monk is writing directly in front of him in his study, and it's this great scene with Keith David and Oak having this mano-y-mano conversation directly in front of Monk in his study. And I think that it is performed so beautifully by those actors, and they brought such life to it and it was such an interesting take. That was one of the scenes in the film where I really saw the power of acting, and it really, really changed how I considered that scene. I considered that scene initially to be one that was going to be very kind of broadly comedic, and then Oak and Keith David got in there and performed it with such subtlety and such intensity that it felt like "Oh, this is what the scene should have been all along," and it is one of my favorite scenes in the film, and I think that a few people have told me that it's their favorite scene in the film as well.

Jo Reed:  Yeah, it's so interesting, because my note is these actors are not playing this for laughs.

Cord Jefferson:  Exactly, and that is what's the fascinating thing about it, right, is that when I wrote that scene-- without giving too much away one of the lines in that scene is Oak saying "I hates this man, I hates my mom and I hates myself," and when you write that you say "How can anybody say these words and it not sound ridiculous?" At least that was my idea when I was writing it, and then the minute we started rehearsals-- we didn't really have much time for rehearsals because we didn't have much money, but we rehearsed that one, and the minute we started rehearsing it there was just a magic in the air. It was one of these things where people were running from all around set to try to get a look at what these guys were doing, and it felt like "Oh, this is not ridiculous in the way that I thought it was going to be ridiculous," and that is even more powerful, because it allows you to see the way that this book might become a bestseller. I actually think that seeing them do that really helped sell the idea that this book becomes a hit, because you see with the right shading you can see that somebody might go "Oh, maybe this is good," and that I think added so much to the story that I hadn't even considered when I was writing it. It really is sort of like an interesting  interesting glimpse at what actors can bring to a scene that you're not expecting.

Jo Reed:  Exactly, exactly, and it also makes us understand why Coraline, Jeffrey Wright's girlfriend, played by Erika Alexander, who's not an idiot by any means, actually likes the book.

Cord Jefferson:  Exactly, and it's also-- if you're paying really close attention, you're seeing that some of the demons that Monk is exorcising  in that writing. He says "Well, I'm just writing this as a goof," but the issues that Monk has with his father…. it's a scene in which a young man is dealing with his father, right, and so you're realizing that as much as he's saying like "This is pointless to me and this is stupid" he may be fooling himself when he thinks that he's not actually putting some of himself in this narrative.

Jo Reed:  I promised I would only keep you for 30 minutes, so this is my last question, and that is this has been such a success that it has to be so gratifying. Are you focused now more on film, especially having met with such great success with your first one?

Cord Jefferson:  Yeah. I always want to write TV, and in fact I'm still contractually obligated to write TV for the next year and a half or two years, so I'm going to keep making TV hopefully well into the future. But that being said, there is really something that I really loved about making a film. I really love the finality of it. I really love sort of just being able to tell this condensed story and say like "Here it is, and it's done, and we're moving on." I really love the camaraderie of just being on set. I really enjoyed that. TV writing is wonderful. I love it, but you got soft hands in TV writing. A lot of it is driving onto a lot and sitting in an air-conditioned room all day and then having fancy salads delivered to you at lunchtime and then going home at 6 PM, and you're done, and you email in your script, and you move on from there, and then whoever is directing the episode directs the episode. This was an experience in which you're sitting there at one o'clock in the morning on a Tuesday night. It's cold out, it's raining. You've still got a scene to shoot, and people are miserable and want to go home, and you're tired and you're hungry, but you're out there with 60 other people and you're building something together, and there is something really, really special about that, that collaboration and that support that you have and the camaraderie that builds. I really love that, and, yeah, I'm never going to let that go. I want to do that as much as they'll let me.

Jo Reed:  And that's where we're going to have to leave it, Cord. Thank you for giving me your time. Thank you for this wonderful film...

Cord Jefferson:  No, thank you.

Jo Reed:  ...and these wonderful performances and congratulations on all of the nominations!

Cord Jefferson:  Yeah, thank you so much. I am so thrilled for these actors. I'm so proud of them. I'm so proud of everybody who worked on the movie, and thank you so much for having me. It's a real honor.

Jo Reed:  Not at all. Thank you. Okay. 

That was Cord Jefferson—he directed and wrote the screenplay for “American Fiction.” which has been nominated for five academy awards. If you’re interested in his thoughts about writing for television, particularly on the series Watchmen, listen to my 2020 conversation with him. We’ll have a link in the show notes.

You’ve been listening to Art Works, produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple. It helps other people who love the arts to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

We catch up with director/writer Cord Jefferson, whose film American Fiction has been nominated for five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay  (Jefferson), Best Actor (Jeffrey Wright), Best Supporting Actor (Sterling K. Brown), and Best Score (Laura Karpman)). Not bad for the first-time director—albeit one with a rich resume as a Emmy Award-winning television writer (think: The Good Place and Watchmen.*

Jefferson talks about adapting Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, reflecting on the novel's exploration of stereotypes and limitations placed on Black artists, and his own personal experiences that drew him to the project and influenced the adaptation. Jefferson opens up about the difficulty of finding backing for the film, particularly as a first-time director, and the joy of putting together an extraordinary ensemble cast led by Jeffrey Wright—a task made easier by the depth and richness of the characters they were called upon to play. The podcast also covers his aim to create a film that balances satire without veering into farce, ensuring the story remained grounded and the importance of family themes within the film is highlighted, with Jefferson discussing his decision to keep these elements, against suggestions to cut them, as a way to enrich the narrative and ground the satire. Through Jefferson's insights, listeners gain an understanding of the complexities involved in adapting a novel to film, the importance of nuanced storytelling, and the power of representation in film.  

We’d love to know your thoughts—email us at And follow us on Apple Podcasts!

*Back in 2020, Cord Jefferson came onto to the podcast to talk about his career in television and particularly his work on the groundbreaking series, Watchmen. You can listen to that interview here.