5 things to know about Cord Jefferson

The filmmaker behind "American Fiction" has become one of the brightest stars of this year's awards season.

Cord Jefferson is one of the brightest stars of awards season. His debut film, “American Fiction,” has appeared on various end-of-year lists, and has earned multiple nominations for various awards ceremonies, including five Oscar nominations. Ahead of the Academy Awards on Sunday, we’re looking at Jefferson’s career as a journalist and screenwriter.

2024 EE BAFTA Film Awards - Winners Room
Cord Jefferson poses with the Adapted Screenplay Award in the Winners Room during the EE BAFTA Film Awards 2024 at The Royal Festival Hall on Feb. 18, 2024, in London. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images) Credit: Photo byJohn Phillips / Getty Images

Beginnings as a journalist

Jefferson began his career as a journalist long before becoming the screenwriter we know today. He served as the West Coast editor for Gawker, and contributed to various outlets, including The New York Times Magazine, USA Today, and the Huffington Post.

He told W Magazine in a recent profile when discussing his transition from journalism to screenwriting, “Writing, to me, is writing. For James Baldwin, writing was a toolbox that allowed him to do a lot of different things: he’d write a book of essays, then a novel, and then a journalistic article about politics … if you’re a good journalist, you can probably be a good screenwriter or novelist. That skillset travels.”

Early TV gigs

Jefferson first broke into TV writing working on “Survivor’s Remorse,” the LeBron James-produced Starz series that debuted in 2014. He recently told The Daily Beast that breaking in felt “insurmountable” until he got that job, which led him to other jobs including writing on “The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore.

Referring to it as a “constant grind” of late night, he told the outlet, “It wasn’t just the brutal pace of a regular late-night show, we were also trying to figure out what the show was and build it as we jumped off the cliff.”

Success(ion) in comedy

As Jefferson continued to carve out his lane in TV writing, he made his own lane, never sticking to one genre for too long. In 2017, he worked on “Master of None,” Netflix’s comedy-drama from the mind of Aziz Ansari, and also worked on “The Good Place,” Michael Schur’s sitcom that is considered to be one of the best of the last 10 years.

One of the biggest shows he has worked on was “Succession,” HBO’s hit drama that took home the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series three seasons in a row. Jefferson served as a consultant during the acclaimed second season of the series.

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A “Watchmen” win

Jefferson’s work in TV led him to win the biggest award in television: an Emmy. He won in 2020 for his work on the HBO Limited Series, “Watchmen,” which served as a sort of sequel to the beloved graphic novel of the same name. The episode that won the award, “This Extraordinary Being,” was hailed as “astonishing” by critics, dealing with themes of race, sexuality, and mythology. The sixth episode of the series takes viewers back in time to an alternate 1938, following the backstory of the supporting superhero, Hooded Justice.

“Professional failure” leads to “American Fiction”

Now comes “American Fiction,” Jefferson’s debut film based on the Percival Everett novel, “Erasure.” Starring Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, Sterling K. Brown, Issa Rae and more, the film has earned rave reviews from critics and various awards, including the BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Screenplay at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

Jefferson recently revealed that without a recent “professional failure,” he may not have made “American Fiction” in the first place. Speaking to The Wrap, he explained, “I had a really huge professional failing in 2020, where this TV show that I thought was going to get on the air and was confident would go got killed at the last minute.” Jefferson then came across “Erasure” shortly after, and quickly resonated with the story, which tackles the art of writing, stereotypes, and making authentic work as an artist.

“American Fiction” is up for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

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