Cord Jefferson's feature film debut with American Fiction received the highest praise at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), voted the People's Choice Award winner for best film of the 2023 festival.
Based on Percival Everett's novel, "Erasure," Jeffrey Wright leads the story as Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, an author and university English literature professor who is struggling to get support for his latest novel from publishers who believe his writing "isn't Black enough."
At the same time, a novel from another Black author, played by Issa Rae, titled "We's Lives in Da Ghetto" is becoming an absolute hit, criticized by Monk as a book that's riddled with stereotypes.
That's when Monk decides that he's going to write a book, under a pseudonym, pandering to what the white executives think a "Black" novel should be, but thinking he's taking things to a extreme that would never be published. However, it ends up becoming a bestseller.
The film also features Tracee Ellis Ross, Leslie Uggams, Sterling K. Brown and Adam Brody, among its star-studded cast.
"Thank you TIFF and the audience in Toronto who so generously came out to see our movie," Cameron Bailey, TIFF's CEO, read out from a statement submitted by Jefferson. "This is my first ever feature film and my first ever Toronto debut.
"When I made the film, I wasn't yet thinking about how it would feel when it went out into the world. My gratitude towards everyone who watched American Fiction, discussed it after amongst friends and colleagues, is endless. The film is now in your hands, and I'm so grateful that it was embraced in this way."
Other People's Choice Award winners include Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe, voted as the best documentary of the Toronto festival, and Dicks: The Musical, which won the Midnight Madness award.
'Solo' named best Canadian feature at TIFF
Another notable award winner from TIFF 2023 is Sophie Dupuis, who won the award for Best Canadian Feature Film for her movie, Solo.
Set in Montreal, Simon (Théodore Pellerin) is a makeup artist during the day and a drag queen at night. When he meets Olivier (Félix Maritaud), a drag artist from France, a love story starts to emerge. But that's when Simon's estranged mother, an opera singer played by Anne-Marie Cadieux, comes back into his life and demands that he work around her schedule. Simon has to evaluate what's best for his own life.
"We are very honoured because it seems that Canadian cinema is very, very strong this year," Dupuis said after receiving the award in Toronto.
"One week before we started pre-production of this film, I listened very carefully to the encouragement. 'Break a leg,' and I did [break] a leg. I remember I was waiting for my surgery ... and I was thinking about my cast and crew, and I was afraid people would abandon this ship because I thought they would maybe think that I wouldn't be able to do it. They did not. They saw my passion and my strength and all together they gave me more strength. I healed one month earlier than the usual. They say that I'm a medical mystery; I say it's just the power of love and cinema that healed me that fast."
Dupuis went on to stress that Solo confirms how important it is for queer representation in film, "for queer people to see themselves and accept themselves and love themselves."
"Now that the film is released, I see how important it is for connecting queer people with non-queer people," the filmmaker said.
"We already got comments about the fact that people say, 'I haven't just watched a film about drag queens, I just watched a film about people loving each other, people making mistakes, people feeling the same emotions that I do.'"