“American Son” Evokes Conversations about Race

Within the past several years, the discussion about law enforcement’s treatment of black Americans has dominated the media. Body camera video recordings of shootings of young black men and unlawful brutality against helpless citizens litter my Twitter timeline as of recent. Netflix took this opportunity to further the discussion with the release of their new film entitled “American Son” starring Kerry Washington. 

The film, based off of a Broadway play, tells viewers a story of a concerned mother (Washington) in South Florida whose son never returned home after an argument between the two. Washington contacted the police and was sent to sit and wait while she received little to no useful information about her son’s whereabouts or the police department’s efforts to find him. Not until her white husband (Steven Pasquale) appears to comfort her does the young officer assigned to watch over Washington show his true colors, using racist and flat out rude comments to describe the grieving mother. 

Throughout the film, viewers watch as complications between the interracial couple arise as they argue over their messy marriage and opposing views on the treatment they’ve received at the police station. She and her husband go toe-to-toe regarding their perceived successes and failings in raising a black son as well. Debating the importance of their son’s prep school education, appearance and friend group. For example, Washington points out her ex-husbands distaste with their sons “black name,” Jamal, and the crowd of friends with which he associates, claiming that they’ve influenced his poor behavior.

The film keeps the audience on their toes to say the least. Each relationship in the film pokes at different social issues that keeps the audience engaged. The viewrs learn to sympathize with the grieving mother, and the dialogue between Washington, her husband and law enforcement is often frustrating. The sympathy for Washington as a mother creates an interesting narrative to a story we’ve unfortunately heard too many times. The news only seems to capture the violence between police and black American’s and often misses the common anxieties that parents raising these kids face on a day to day basis. 

In the film, Washington discusses her countless nightmares about her son’s safety and, in one instance, her uneasy feeling about Jamal’s bumper sticker on his car telling readers to “shoot cops,” but in reference to cameras and not guns. As a mother, she struggles to allow her son to express himself and learn about how he fits into the world knowing all too well the horrors that lie outside the comfort of their home. 

I loved the film and would watch it again in a heartbeat. Other than the impressive conversation it evokes, the entire film is shot in one room, an incredibly impressive feat in play writing, I might add. I encourage you all to watch it with a careful eye and question every on-screen relationship you see. To me, the most interesting relationship lies in the conversations between Washington and the black chief of police who has been assigned to her case. The police chief, despite being black himself, doesn’t rebuke any of the previously stated racist comments, but simply chalks it all up to statistical evidence, which struck me as an interesting take. The film has a unique angle on a situation we’ve heard one too many times and begs the question: how often does this really happen and is there something that can be done about it?

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