Cord Jefferson’s debut feature American Fiction has won the 2023 TIFF People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, announced by TIFF CEO this morning at the annual TIFF Awards Breakfast. The first runner-up for the award was Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers and the second runner-up was Hiyao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron.
“We’re grateful to all the audience members, artists, industry professionals, and supporters who graced Toronto’s cinemas, red carpets, meeting spaces, and streets,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF CEO. “As we recognize award winners today, we thank everyone who contributed to this glorious, collective gift.”
American Fiction, adapted from Percival Everett’s novel Erasure, tells the story of Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), a respected author and professor of English literature. His impatience with his students’ cultural sensitivities is threatening his academic standing, while his latest novel is failing to attract publishers; they claim Monk’s writing “isn’t Black enough.” He travels to his hometown of Boston to participate in a literary festival where all eyes are on the first-time author of a bestseller titled We’s Lives In Da Ghetto, a book Monk dismisses as pandering to readers seeking stereotypical stories of Black misery. Meanwhile, Monk’s family experiences tragedy, and his ailing mother requires a level of care neither he nor his trainwreck of a brother (Sterling K. Brown) can afford.
One night, in a fit of spite, Monk concocts a pseudonymous novel embodying every Black cliché he can imagine. His agent submits it to a major publisher who immediately offers the biggest advance Monk’s ever seen. As the novel is rushed to the printers and Hollywood comes courting, Monk must reckon with a monster of his own making.
The film received rave reviews (currently sitting at a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes) and applause during and after its screenings at the festival (our review here) was financed by MCR and will be released by MGM/Orion in select theaters on November 3 and wider on November 17.
The win gives the film a massive boost in the Oscar race, where it had already been a bit of an early frontrunner. The track record for the TIFF People’s Choice Award winner and a Best Picture nomination is a strong one; every film since 2008 except one (Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now? from 2011) has been nominated and five have won (2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, 2012’s The King’s Speech, 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, 2018’s Green Book and 2020’s Nomadland). Last year, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans won here and went on to earn seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. However, it also earned the distinction of being the only TIFF People’s Choice Award winner since 2008 (save the Labaki, of course) to win zero Oscars.
American Fiction is the first directing debut to win the TIFF People’s Choice Award since 2006’s Bella and the last English-language winner here to miss Oscar’s Best Picture lineup was 2007’s Eastern Promises.
Here’s how TIFF People’s Choice winners have performed at the Oscars since 2008:
2008: Slumdog Millionaire – Best Picture/Director/Screenplay winner+
2009: Precious – Best Picture/Director/Actress nominee+/Supporting Actor/Screenplay winner
2010: The King’s Speech – Best Picture/Director/Actor/Screenplay winner+
2011: Where Do We Go Now? – no Oscar nominations
2012: Silver Linings Playbook – Best Picture/Director/Actor nominee/Actress winner
2013: 12 Years a Slave – Best Picture/Screenplay winner
2014: The Imitation Game – Best Picture/Director/Actor nominee+/Screenplay winner
2015: Room – Best Picture/Director nominee/Actress winner
2016: La La Land – Best Picture nominee+/Director/Actress winner+
2017: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Best Picture nominee+/Actress/Supporting Actor winner
2018: Green Book – Best Picture/Supporting Actor/Screenplay winner
2019: Jojo Rabbit – Best Picture nominee+/Screenplay winner
2020: Nomadland – Best Picture/Director/Actress winner
2021: Belfast – Best Picture/Director nominee+/Screenplay winner
2022: The Fabelmans – Best Picture/Director/Actress/Screenplay nominee+
“From the most revered veterans to the freshest new voices, this year’s Festival played host to the diverse range of filmmakers Toronto is known for,” said Anita Lee, TIFF Chief Programming Officer. “And Toronto’s filmgoers turned up in huge numbers to be a part of the celebration. We’re grateful to our film jurors for their invaluable contributions, for championing emerging talent, and for enriching the film community with their expertise and passion.”
The Platform Prize, decided on by the jury of Barry Jenkins, Nadine Labaki and Anthony Shim, awarded their prize to Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s caste system story Dear Jassi. The film is Tarsem’s first feature in eight years, after making a name for himself with the English-language films The Cell and The Fall.
The 2023 Best Canadian Feature jury members include: V.T. Nayani, Susan Maggi, and Ricardo Acosta and selected Solo, directed by Sophie Dupuis as this year’s Best Canadian Feature Film.
The Changemaker Award is presented to a Festival film that explores issues relevant to young people and is focused on themes of social change and youth empowerment. The award embraces the power in young people seeing their communities represented on screen and celebrates the next generation of storytellers and changemakers in cinema. The winning film comes with a $10,000 CAD prize, and is selected by TIFF’s Next Wave Committee, a group of young film lovers who recognize cinema’s power to transform the world.
The 2023 jurors for the Changemaker Award are members of TIFF’s Next Wave Committee: Maggie Kane, Linc Guo, Serena Hao, Roni Harel Haber, Ray Wu, Naiya Forrester, Maya Al-Arami, Sara Rana, Daniel Leplae, Tara Sidhu, Tafadzwa Mangwiro, and Elizabeth Albrecht. The 2023 Changemaker Award winner was We Grown Now, directed by Minhal Baig.
The 2023 FIPRESCI jury members include: Cem Altinsaray, Elijah Baron, Jindřiška Bláhová, Diego Faraone, and Jenni Zylka. The jury selected Seagrass, directed Meredith Hama-Brown, as this year’s FIPRESCI winner.
The 2023 NETPAC jury members include: Sung Moon, Haolun Shu, and Lalita Krishna, who selected Jayant Digambar Somalkar’s A Match as this year’s NETPAC winner.
Here is the complete list of winners from the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Award Winner: American Fiction by Cord Jefferson
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Award First Runner-Up: The Holdovers by Alexander Payne
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Award Second Runner-Up: The Boy and the Heron by Hiyao Miyazaki
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Documentary Award: Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe by Robert McCallum
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Documentary Award First Runner-Up: Summer Qamp by Jen Markowitz
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Documentary Award Second Runner Up: Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa by Lucy Walker
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award: Dicks: The Musical by Larry Charles
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award First-Runner-Up: Kill by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat
2023 TIFF People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award Second Runner-Up: Hell of a Summer by Finn Wolfhard and Billy Bryk
2023 TIFF Platform Prize Winner: Dear Jassi by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
2023 TIFF Best Canadian Feature Film: Solo by Sophie Dupuis
Honorable Mention: Kanaval by Henri Pardo
2023 TIFF Next Wave Changemaker Award: We Grow Now by Minhal Baig
2023 TIFF Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC) Award: A Match by Jayant Digambar Somalkar
2023 TIFF International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize: SeaGrass by Meredith Hama-Brown
2023 TIFF Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award: Shé (Snake) by Renee Zhan
2023 TIFF Amplified Voices Award by Canada Goose – BIPOC Canadian Feature: Kanaval by Henri Pardo
2023 TIFF Amplified Voices Award by Canada Goose – BIPOC Canadian First Feature: Tautuktavuk by Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk
2023 TIFF Inaugural Amplified Voices Trailblazer Award by Canada Goose: Damon D’Oliveira
2023 TIFF Short Cuts Award for Best Film: Electra by Daria Kashcheeva
2023 TIFF Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Film: Motherland by Jasmin Mozaffari
2023 TIFF Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award: Shé (Snake) by Renee Zhan