American Fiction, starring Jeffrey Wright and written and directed by Cord Jefferson, is based on a 2001 book called Erasure, by the California author Percival Everett. Like many people, I got a kick out of the film’s opening sequence, which aims a rare satirical barb at the current academic obsession with silencing anyone—faculty, speaker, student—who in the interest of teaching and learning sets off one of many speech-related tripwires on campus.

The sequence starts with Wright as a dour literature professor asking his class, “Who wants to start?” A hand shoots up, and his expression brightens: “Yes, Brittany, kick it off!” But Brittany (played by Skyler Wright) does not kick it off. “I don’t have a thought on the reading,” she says, “I just think that that word on the board is wrong.” The professor turns to the board, upon which he has just written the name “Flannery O’Connor” and the title of her 1955 short story “The Artificial N-gger.” Feigning surprise, he says, “Well, I think it still has two G’s in it. Last I checked.”

This gets a laugh, though not from Brittany. Trying to neutralize her, the professor adopts a patient tone: “This is a class on the literature of the American South,” he explains, and “coarse language” is part of “the context.” When Brittany repeats, “I just find that

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