American History X
starring Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo, Elliot Gould, Stacey Keach and Ethan Suplee
written by David McKenna
directed by Tony Kay
This is a difficult story. Recommended to me by another teacher, I was at first very unsure if I would like it. Because I rent all my movies from a Japanese video shop I have to judge films either by directors and actors that I recognize, or by the pictures on the video box. And the pictures on this box did not fill me with confidence. That is because the story is about neo-Nazi White Supremacist skinheads in America, an ugly, uncomfortable problem in The U.S. and Europe. Japan has its own problem with similar types, ultra-right wingers both in the form of extrme political groups and their supportes, and as street gangster and criminal elements.
But, having admitted that it is an ugly story to tell I have to say that the film is done very well. I was surprised. The acting is excellent, the story is contemporary and the setting is real. I have to complain about Edward Furlongthough. You already know Edward Furlong as the young, teenage John Connor from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 2. I don’t like him because he sounds like a perpetually squeaky-voiced teen. His squeaky voice and soft face make him a miss-match as a street-tough angry young man. He’s annoying.
Edward Norton plays Derek Vinyard, leader of local skinheads in Venice Beach, California. He is sentenced to three years in prison for killing two Crips - black gang members - trying to steal his car. Derek becomes a neighborhood hero and a model for his younger brother, Danny (Furlong). Danny copies Derek and follows the same path of destruction.
Skinhead admire Adolf Hitler. They nurture a phenomenal sense of victimization and blame the government for protecting illegal immigrants, Jews and black at their expense. They have a strong sense of family solidarity. They are poorly educated, hold low-end jobs and have little hope of advancement in contemporary America. Their idea of the American Dream is a perversion. They are Second Amendment Rights, gun-toting hee-haws.
The boys’ widowed mother (Beverley D’Angelo) knows better but it powerless to stop her adult son’s degeneration. Ugly, ignorant, stupid white trash, and the volume and viciousness of the hatred of minorities that they spew takes your breath away, even though it’s just a movie. It’s well written. In the story Derek actually has a college education, making him a most remarkable thing: a mouthpiece of rational-sounding racism. And an oddity: someone who can conserve his narrowness, ignorance and hatred throughout a college career.
In prison Derek had a conversion. Supported on the outside by his much-admired black high school English teacher Dr. Sweeney (Avery Brooks), he befriends a black inmate and comes to the realization that nothing he had done as a skinhead had improved his life, and determines to abandon the movement and eschew it upon his release. Easier said than done, however. After his release from prison and as soon as his change of heart becomes known to his former skinhead clan he immediately descends form the pedestal to the dustbin of skinhead regard.
Stacey Keach plays the adult mentor behind the young skinheads. He is modeled after real characters in society - Holocaust-denying history revisionists who use civil rights laws in the U.S. to write, speak and advedtise their version of things. They stay safe enough away from the criminal activities of he white gangs to protect themselves from the police and prosecution, but they still organize, support and motivate them.
Skinheads are real. Neo-Nazis are real. Racial tension in America is real. American History X is set in the post-Rodney King race riots of Los Angeles. The riots following the acquittal of police officers in the videotaped beating of speeding black felon Rodney King in 1994 raised the whole Medusa of persistent problems in the American society and culture bag.
In America, citizenship is not easy. A person has got to want it bad because it will put up a fight. Society is not homogenous, and different people are no less human. Hatred is a baggage that one has to carry around in their lives, and it doesn’t do us any good, really. So we would do better to check it.