Jeffrey Wright is one of the greatest actors working in Hollywood today

OPINION: The star of "American Fiction" deserves all the accolades, including the Oscar nominations for best actor.

Touré (left) interviews actor Jeffrey Wright to begin a new season of "Masters of the Game." Credit: TheGrio

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Jeffrey Wright is one of the greatest actors of our time. His work in “American Fiction” got him an Oscar nomination for best actor and it’s absolutely Oscar-worthy because of its delicate complexity. Let me dig into this — sorry, Wright’s been on my mind a lot lately because he’s nominated for best actor, wow, and because I just went to L.A. to interview him for “Masters of the Game.” (It’ll be out soon.)

In “American Fiction,” Wright is essentially playing two characters at the same time. At first, he’s just Monk, a mild-mannered academic intellectual who’s authored many books that no one has read, and he feels like someone who’s authored many books that no one has read. 

That speaks to the way every time I see him onscreen, I always believe Jeffrey Wright. Whether he’s playing Colin Powell as he did in “W” or Commissioner Gordon in “The Batman,” I always believe Wright is the character. This is a feat because I actually know him.

We met when we were in our 20s as young Black artistic New Yorkers, and we’ve both lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood for the last couple of decades. I might run into him while I’m walking to brunch. But when I see him onscreen, I don’t think, oh, that’s my homie. Obviously, I know intellectually that I’m looking at someone I know and respect, but his talent is so immense that I’m quickly sucked into the character, and I don’t think about the real man. 


So, back to “American Fiction.” After a while, Wright is not just playing Monk. When his novel takes off, a second character is created. Monk, in the course of pretending to be someone else, becomes two people. He becomes Stagg R. Leigh, who’s everything Monk is not; he’s street, he’s tough, he’s unfamiliar with white people and he’s on the lam. 

By the middle of the film, Wright is playing two characters at once. Both Stagg and Monk show up in scenes throughout the last half of the film, meaning Wright must weave a performance where he’s flowing between the two characters in single scenes, sometimes performing the Stagg character then quickly but just physically responding as Monk. We can see that Monk is rolling his eyes at Stagg’s success or at how white people are responding to Stagg. He thinks they’re fools. But he’s in too deep to stop performing the Stagg role. So, Wright’s performance in “American Fiction” is him giving a performance and also him giving a performance within that performance (because his character is playing a character). Within all of this, one of the characters is commenting on the other in real time so we see a dialogue about identity happening through Wright’s work with Monk and Stagg. It’s super meta, and it’s one of the most interesting acting performances of the year.

Whenever the Oscars arrive, I’m always rooting for everyone Black. That said, I can certainly make a case that Wright delivered the best performance of the year, but it doesn’t look like Wright will win best actor this year. It looks like we’re in the year of “Oppenheimer.” 

A good guide to what will happen at the Oscars is what happens at the SAG Awards because SAG is comprised of actors and the largest group of Oscar voters is made up of … actors. I look at the SAG Awards as the actors telling us who they voted for at the Oscars before the Oscars happens. At SAG this year, they loved “Oppenheimer.” Whatever. (I hated it.) Anyway, win or lose, Wright is undoubtedly one of the great actors in Hollywood today. He will get more leads, and he will get more chances of winning an Oscar. 


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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