BAM to Present AMERICAN FICTION: The Characters of Jeffrey Wright

BAM celebrates Wright’s exceptional contributions to cinema.

By: Dec. 01, 2023

BAM to Present AMERICAN FICTION: The Characters of Jeffrey Wright Through Sunday, February 11, 2024, BAM will present American Fiction: The Characters of Jeffrey Wright, a look at almost four decades of celluloid creations from the Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor. From his first starring film role as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, to his latest appearance as Thelonious “Monk” Ellison in American Fiction, BAM celebrates Wright’s exceptional contributions to cinema. The series kicked off on Tuesday with a sold-out screening of Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction (2023), followed by a post-screening conversation with Wright and BAM’s president Gina Duncan, and will continue in 2024. 

“Behind Jeffrey Wright's many memorable performances is a deep understanding of human behavior and a mastery of the craft,” said Duncan. “I am so thrilled that we are celebrating the acting brilliance of one of Brooklyn's finest.”

“I've loved Jeffrey Wright's work for decades now, ever since I first saw his elegant, understated performance as Jean-Michel Basquiat,” said Jefferson. “As we shot American Fiction almost 30 years later, I found that I was not just his director, but also his student, taking in the years of wisdom he had accumulated while living a creative life. I can’t think of a more appropriate venue than BAM to show Jeffrey's body of work -- both are Brooklyn institutions, of course -- and am happy that people will have the opportunity to view his remarkable career on the big screen in this way.”

“I have been a fan of Jeffrey’s for a long time, ever since seeing him on stage in Angels in America and Top Dog/Under Dog,” said Wright’s co-star in American Fiction Leslie Uggams. “I have seen many of his films, too, and have always loved him. Monk is a very different role for him. This is a Jeffrey Wright nobody has seen before, and he is absolutely brilliant. I told him recently that when he is on screen, even when he isn’t saying a word, his eyes do a lot of talking. He is just wonderful.”

In the coming year, the series will take a look at some past characters, favorites of the film community and moviegoers alike. The performance which cemented him as a film actor to watch, as the title character Basquiat (1996), will begin the new year. Written and directed by artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, Wright’s performance was called by late film critic Roger Ebert “a performance of almost mystical opacity.” 

In one of Wes Anderson’s latest films The French Dispatch (2021), Wright plays eccentric food critic Roebuck Wright. The film will be a palate cleanser when it screens the same evening as Basquiat. 

Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil (1999) features strong performances from an all-star cast including Wright as a freed Southern slave fighting for the Confederacy. And in Syriana (2005), Wright plays a rising lawyer at a Washington firm assigned to investigate the merger of two oil giants alongside George Clooney and Matt Damon, based on the 2003 memoir “See No Evil” by former CIA case officer Robert Baer.

Lauded for his Broadway debut in Tony Kushner’s two-part masterpiece Angels in America, Wright reprised his Tony-winning role as Belize in Mike Nichols’ adaptation for HBO, for which he won an Emmy. BAM will screen a double feature of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America: Perestroika (2003) to culminate the series. 

Isabella Cotier, a London-based artist who designed the artwork for American Fiction’s opening title credits, created an original piece for the series to celebrate Wright’s work


The full series includes:

November 28, 7:30pm

American Fiction (2023) Dir. Cord Jefferson. With Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Ortiz, Erika Alexander, Leslie Uggams, Adam Brody, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown.

In his hilarious directorial debut, writer and director Cord Jefferson (Watchmen, Station Eleven, Succession) incisively confronts the culture’s obsession with reducing people to outrageous stereotypes. Tony and Emmy Award winner Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America, Westworld, Basquiat) stars as Monk, a frustrated novelist who’s fed up with the establishment profiting from “Black” entertainment that relies on tired and offensive tropes. To prove his point, Monk uses a pen name to write an outlandish “Black” book of his own—a book that propels him to the heart of hypocrisy and the madness he claims to disdain. Featuring an outstanding performance from Wright, this whip-smart satire is a worthy adaptation of Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure.

January 10, 6:30pm

Basquiat (1996) Dir. Julian Schnabel. With Jeffrey Wright, Michael Wincott, Benicio Del Toro.

Jeffrey Wright… gives a performance of almost mystical opacity” — Roger Ebert

Jeffrey Wright could hardly have chosen a more mythical figure for his first starring role on film than Jean-Michel Basquiat. Determined to rise up through the heady New York art scene of the 70s and 80s, the American graffiti artist became the brightest star of neo-Expressionist painting and one of the most successful painters of his time—even developing a friendship with Andy Warhol (David Bowie, in an excellent turn). Made by Basquiat’s friend Julian Schnabel, this impressionistic portrait captures both Basquiat’s creative genius and self-destructive impulses with a riveting central performance by Wright.

January 10, 9:30pm

The French Dispatch (2021) Dir. Wes Anderson. With Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright.

“Wright gives the movie its soul by communing with the figures who inspired him, resulting in one of his most distinctive and poignant performances.”— IndieWire

Billed as “an obituary, a travel guide, and three feature articles,” this love letter to magazine journalism overflows with director Wes Anderson’s signature flourishes: wry comedy, meticulous compositions, and an all-star ensemble. Stalwart collaborators including Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray are joined by bravura Anderson newcomers like Elisabeth Moss, Timothée Chalamet, and Jeffrey Wright, who drew inspiration from James Baldwin for his portrayal of an African-American expat in the film’s stunning final vignette.

January 17, 6:00pm

Ride with the Devil (1999). Dir. Ang Lee. With Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jeffrey Wright.

Ang Lee’s first foray into the American West is a clear-eyed, complex look at the savage guerrilla warfare of Bleeding Kansas during the Civil War. It centers on a group of wild young secessionists, with Tobey Maguire leading a rich ensemble that includes Skeet Ulrich, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Jewel. Jeffrey Wright joins the cause as Daniel Holt, a formerly enslaved man who was freed by his childhood friend and now fights alongside him for the South. Ride with the Devil revels in messy emotions and human contradictions like the ones that guide Holt—even as it barrels towards its bloody conclusion in Lawrence, Kansas.

January 17, 9:30pm

Syriana (2005). Dir. Stephen Gaghan. With George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright.

“Guerrilla camerawork and bravura acting fuse to create a realism not unlike the edgy, off-kilter work of Cassavetes”—Zadie Smith, The Telegraph

A single deal reverberates from the halls of Washington, DC to the oil fields in Kazakhstan in this political thriller from Academy Award-winner Stephen Gaghan (Traffic). Against the backdrop of the Middle Eastern oil industry, Syriana weaves together multiple storylines—including Jeffrey Wright as an ambitious American lawyer in charge of a dubious merger and George Clooney as a CIA agent caught up in an assassination plot—into a rich tapestry of revenge, loss, ambition, and betrayal.

February 11, 2:00pm (with intermission)

Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches (2003)

Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika (2003)

Dir. Mike Nichols. Dir. Mike Nichols. With Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright.

Jeffrey Wright reprises his Tony Award-winning role as Belize, a gay nurse who winds up caring for conservative attorney Roy Cohn (Pacino), in Mike Nichols’ Emmy Award-winning adaptation of Tony Kushner’s landmark play. An expansive, poetic, and politically charged look at the 80s in America, Angels in America is a sweeping exploration of the social, sexual, religious and other issues facing the country as the AIDS crisis gains momentum.

Tickets for American Fiction: The Characters of Jeffrey Wright will go on sale on Tuesday, December 5.