The Cinematic Alchemy of The American Society of Magical Negroes and These Other Fantastical Films

Five spellbinding stories that use magic in unexpected ways.

In Kobi Libii’s The American Society of Magical Negroes, a struggling artist, Aren (Justice Smith), is given a new purpose when a stranger, Roger (David Alan Grier), initiates him into a fantastical organization set on fighting white discomfort. Mixing wizardry with satire, the film parodies the "Magical Negro" trope, in which a Black character’s main purpose is to help a white hero succeed.

While bringing some magic to a frustrated internet designer (Drew Tarver), Aren is himself enchanted by a coworker (An-Li Bogan), but this attraction may distract him from his sworn duty. In this sharp satire, magic proves a double-edged sword. “It’s a fantasy because strict reality can’t possibly reflect the creative, fantastical things Black people have to do to survive in America,” Libii writes in the production notes.

The American Society of Magical Negroes is not alone in using magic to illuminate the unreal of our reality. So we’re remembering some of our favorite fantastical films whose touch of magic transforms our vision of the world.

The American Society of Magical Negroes is playing in theaters—get your tickets now!

Official trailer for The American Society of Magical Negroes

John Malkovich and Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich

In Being John Malkovich, director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman concoct a fantastic yarn about delusions of celebrity. When a puppeteer, Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), discovers that his new office job on the 7 ½ floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building contains a doorway into the mind of John Malkovich, his entire world is turned upside down. Everyone—from Schwartz’s wife (Cameron Diaz) to his office mate (Catherine Keener)—soon becomes addicted to the 15 minutes of celebrity they experience by being John Malkovich, even if they start to lose a sense of their own identity. The magic of the movie, as The Los Angeles Times writes, is “being able to treat a highly unusual scenario as if it were the most normal of situations, guiding audiences who have no idea where they’re going because no one’s ever been there before.”

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Official trailer for Being John Malkovich

Lewis MacDougall in A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls

Adapted from Patrick Ness' acclaimed book, J. A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls uses a child’s perspective to reimagine the world in a way that makes it possible to deal with the impossible. Faced with a tragically ill mother (Felicity Jones) at home and bullies at school, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) believes that a giant tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) has come to life to protect him. Describing the film’s strange and wondrous aspects, Bayona told Gizmodo, ” We need fantasy to understand reality.” Indeed, Rolling Stone wrote the film is “evocative, mysterious and shot through with bruising humor and heartbreak," adding, "there’s magic in it.”

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Official trailer for A Monster Calls

Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron in Tully


With Tully, screenwriter Diablo Cody transformed the complex experience of being a mother into a funny, frightening, and fantastical story. Directed by Jason Reitman, the film follows Marlo (Charlize Theron), a sleep-deprived mom struggling with a new infant as well as her two rambunctious children, who hopes that hiring a night nurse named Tully (Mackenzie Davis) might solve her chaotic existence. With Tully, however, she has found something—and perhaps somebody—quite different. The Washington Post writes, “Things are never exactly what they seem here—but there’s a deeper, more authentic story Reitman and Cody are interested in telling, even when—maybe especially when—the film veers toward fantasy.”

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Official trailer for Tully

David Earl and Chris Hayward in Brian and Charles

Brian and Charles

In Jim Archer’s comedy Brian and Charles, Brian (David Earl) is an inventor living in Wales, and Charles (Chris Hayward) is the 7-foot-tall robot with a washing-machine tummy that he creates by accident. From fighting with play swords to eating cabbages, Brian finds in his fantastic companion a friend he didn’t even know he needed. “The magic that Brian and Charles tap into is handwrought and underplayed, with Archer letting the weird details cast a low-key glow,” writes The Hollywood Reporter. In the end, their friendship is, as Vox writes, “sweet, funny, weird, and heartwarming.”

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Official trailer for Brian and Charles