An-Li Bogan on navigating race, identity in ‘The American Society of Magical Negroes’

An-Li Bogan on navigating race, identity in ‘The American Society of Magical Negroes’
via Focus Features
Michelle De Pacina
28 days ago
Drawn to clever scripts and challenging characters, Taiwanese Irish actress An-Li Bogan landed her first feature film role in writer, director and producer Kobi Libii’s satirical comedy “The American Society of Magical Negroes.”
The film, distributed by Focus Features and Universal Pictures, delves into the problematic nature of the “Magical Negro” trope in American cinema of the 2oth century. This trope, first coined by filmmaker Spike Lee, depicts Black supporting characters whose sole purpose is to serve the storylines of white protagonists. Libii explores the symbolism of this trope and questions the societal values that prioritize white comfort over the autonomy and worth of Black lives. He brings to life a world where being a Magical Negro is an actual job, using humor as a tool to engage audiences in difficult conversations. 
“The American Society of Magical Negroes” follows a young man named Aren (Justice Smith), who is recruited into a secret society of magical Black people dedicating their lives to making white people more comfortable. His first assignment is to help Jason (Drew Tarver), an entitled, misogynistic artist at a global tech company. 
Initially fascinated by his newfound abilities, Aren begins to question the morality of using supernatural powers to fulfill the lifelong expectation of catering to white individuals. His perspective shifts when he falls in love with Lizzie (Bogan) — Jason’s workmate and crush — prompting him to reassess his priorities and beliefs. If he pursues Lizzie and lets Jason fail, he endangers the secret society’s magic powers. 
via Focus Features
The film has since garnered mixed reviews due to its social commentary, an element that drew Bogan to Lizzie, whom the movie describes as “racially ambiguous.” According to Libii, the casting of Bogan and Smith — two lighter-skinned people of color — as leads allows for a unique commentary on race in America. He argues that featuring individuals who may be perceived as able to assimilate easily sharpens the critique of assimilation, demonstrating that even those who conform to certain expectations may still face discrimination
Bogan relates to Lizzie’s belief in working harder than others to gain recognition and control over her life, reflecting on her own experiences of feeling out of control in her environment. 
“It felt pretty close to my own personal experience just being mixed race and ethnically ambiguous,” Bogan tells NextShark. “I feel like I can speak so many languages, not literal languages, but so much of my life feels like adapting to whatever environment I’m in. Not totally knowing where you belong, I think that felt like a core parallel with Lizzie. When I was reading the part of Lizzie, I already felt like I was reading her in my own voice. I didn’t feel like there was too much imagination I had to do as an actor. It felt like I got her, her experiences and what she was going through.”
via Focus Features
Bogan, who previously starred in Hulu’s “The Unsettling” and Max’s “Love Life,” says her first feature film experience felt “surreal” and “dream-like,” highlighting the importance of the story and further need of authentic representation in media, particularly of those behind the scenes. Bogan hopes for increased opportunities for diverse creators to write and direct their own work, emphasizing the need for deeper change in the industry’s power structures.
“I might be mistaken, but it feels like we’re at this point where representation and diverse content – somebody’s realized that that is what the world is ready for – but there’s still a lot of positions of power and where money comes from that’s still mostly dominated by the same group of people that’s always been dominating it,” she explains. “I just hope it goes deeper.”
via Focus Features
Although Bogan acknowledges the limited control she has over the projects she works on due to the difficulty of securing roles, she hopes to portray more characters in film or TV that push the boundaries of storytelling and prompt audiences to question established norms and structures that they may not have previously challenged.
In the meantime, Bogan said she hopes audiences enjoy “The American Society of Magical Negroes,” which hits theaters on Friday: “I hope it surprises you.”
 
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