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Justice Smith Says ‘The American Society of Magical Negroes’ Role Was Made For Him



Justice Smith finally has a role he can relate to.

After years starring in action adventure flicks like “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and its sequel “Jurassic World Dominion”, “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” and “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” Smith is flexing his acting chops playing an awkward Black guy with magical powers in “The American Society of Magical Negroes.’

“This character, this journey was fully my experience, obviously, magic aside,” said Smith during the Focus feature press junket.

The comedy film — written, directed, and produced by Kobi Libii in his directorial debut — follows a young man ( played by Smith ) who gets recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to making white people’s lives easier. Although initially enamored with his new powers, he begins to question the value of using supernatural means to do the very thing he’s felt obligated to do his whole life.

“I read the script initially. Three years prior to being attached, Kobii invited me out to the Sundance labs, and we workshopped the script together a couple scenes. And then from then, I went over to his house a couple of times and improvised and helped him polish some stuff, and I didn’t hear from him a couple years,” he laughs.

“And then I got a call randomly one night, and he said, hey, this thing’s happening. I really want you to be a part of it. And I’d always connected with the materials, so I was like, absolutely.”

Libii says he too had a personal connection to the subject matter but decided to write a parody tackling the magical Negro trope.

“I was writing a parody of the magical Negro trope and imagining a magical Negro society. And I thought it would be a much lighter and funnier thing, frankly,” he explained. “And then I realized that I was ultimately writing about this very particular defense mechanism that I had been taught and internalized as a black man about how to navigate white America, and that I was, at that point, still really in the process of unlearning and getting over it.”

“I felt so much of Kobe’s pain because I identified with it,” added Smith before delving into one particular heartfelt scene. “And so all I had to do was memorize it and be present, and it just came. That was a really interesting day because it was, like, so many tears and so many laughs because it’s such a funny scene on top of being so heavy and poignant.”

Libii also enlisted an all-star supporting cast including David Alan Grier, Aisha Hinds, and Nicole Byer who helped add both elements of levity and complexity.

The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival January 19, 2024, is in theaters March 15, 2024.

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