Netflix’s ‘American Son’ examines race, breaks down tropes


Courtesy of IMDB

Kendra Ellis-Connor (Kerry Washington) sits in the waiting area of a Miami Police station, hoping to hear about her 18-year-old son, Jamal, who has gone missing.

“American Son” is the new Netflix movie on the block and it has its own hot take on race in the United States.

“American Son” is one of the many movies that deals with race in this country and it tries to give a fresh perspective on the subject. The movie may be lost in the crowd of movies about race as it shares many themes that we have seen before.

This Netflix movie set the tone within the first 30 seconds with a quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates, one where he states, “Race is the child of racism, not the father.”

Coates is an author and journalist who wrote for The Atlantic about social, cultural and political issues. He focused on these issues regarding African Americans and white supremacy.

The movie follows the stressful situation of an estranged, interracial couple whose son has gone missing. The mother, Kendra, played by Kerry Washington, is shown at a police station throughout the movie. She relentlessly tries to get information out of this police officer named Paul, but with no avail.

Throughout the movie, there are various conversations between the characters about how race affects the situation at hand. One instance would be when Kendra’s husband, Scott, finally arrives and Paul the police officer was willing to give more information to him than he did to Kendra.

When Paul eventually leaves the room, Kendra begs the question of why she couldn’t get information in the half-hour that she was there while Scott, a white man, was able to get the information within two minutes of walking in.

The scene doesn’t change too much as the movie is set in the one room at the police station; the only scene change would be when Washington’s character went to the station’s water fountain. Interestingly enough, there were two fountains as a result of the building being built during segregation.

For the bulk of the movie, Scott and Kendra are alone in the room together and the dynamic is interesting. They go through this lengthy conversation of their marriage, why and how their son could’ve gotten into this situation, and how race is connected to all of this.

I would describe their dynamic as an electric rollercoaster. Their conversations are charged so much with emotion. They each are so passionate about what they believe is true. Then there are some moments in between these long bursts of emotion, but they don’t last long as the argument comes back up.

There are many themes that I have seen in many other films about race. There’s the white person who doesn’t fully grasp the concept of racism as they don’t understand its subtle ways. Then, we have the black person who is trying their hardest to get the white people around them to understand the complexities of race and how they live through life because of it.

We also see what many would call the “Uncle Tom:” the black person who just turns the other cheek. They give into the subtle racism. One character in “American Son,” named Lieutenant Stokes, states that he has jumped out of planes and has been to Vietnam, but he’s most scared of making a stop on a “ghetto street.”

Another trope that we see is the white cop who is too clouded with his own racial biases to understand the inherent dismissiveness toward the black person in distress. The cop who isn’t outright racist, but acts on subtle prejudices.

“American Son” is among the many movies and shows that tackle the issue of race within this country. The film can easily be lost in the crowd of films that deal with race as it doesn’t jump out with anything new or anything that the general public hasn’t heard. Viewers shouldn’t expect a groundbreaking revelation in the debate on race. In fact, viewers should look forward to the theatrical feel of the film as it’s based on a Broadway play by Christopher Demos-Brown of the same name.