We’ve all seen the hashtags: #Sayhisname, #blacklivesmatter, #iftheygunnedmedown. We’ve all heard their names. Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray are the prominent few [GN1] in a long list of unarmed black men whose lives were taken too soon.
Based on Christopher Demos-Brown’s Broadway play of the same name, “American Son” brings a powerful dialogue surrounding race and police brutality to the big screen. The entire film takes place in a small Florida police precinct. Kendra, portrayed by Kerry Washington, and Scott, portrayed by Steven Pasquale, are there to figure out the whereabouts of their missing son.
The dialogue encapsulates the everyday fear that black mothers feel when they watch their sons walk out the door each morning. Will he be next? There’s no real reason someone would view my son as threatening or “thuggish”? Is today the day I get a call, and just like that he’s gone?
Being a black woman I tend to greatly appreciate films that discuss race and specifically police brutality. Art —— especially television and film —— when rep- resenting a powerful narrative can disseminate messages to a large audience, shifting attitudes and ideals.
It wasn’t until the 2010’s that the black experience finally started to be properly portrayed in the media. It’s often criticized that the most popular black narratives depicted within film are ones that deal with slavery, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement, desegregation and Martin Luther King Jr.
Yes, movies such as “The Help”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Django Unchained” and “Selma” are necessary to document the systemic oppression built into the fabric of this country, but there need to be more films like “American Son” that tackle modern-day systematic oppression.
Additionally, it wrestles with the idea of what it means to be mixed race in America, and the push and pull between appearing black on the outside and having to immerse yourself in a predominantly white institution.
The son, who is never portrayed in the film, attended one of the top private schools in his state and was meant to start at West Point in the fall. His mother constantly stresses the fact he felt the need to be the “face of race” and struggled to find his own identity after his father walked out on him.
Being a black woman at Seattle University, at times, I tend to feel a certain way about being isolated from a larger community. The film covers this topic gracefully with Kerry Washington passionately venting to Pasquale’s character about the frustrations that society has hastily thrust upon her son.
With everything the film touched on and considering it takes place on one set there wasn’t a boring moment. It’s not a subtle film — it immediately thrusts you into the anxiety and panic black mothers of black sons feel every day. It’s powerful, it’s real and it’s necessary to stimulate change.
— London Jones, Staff Reporter