Review of American Son 2019

by Monicah Wangari
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Race is the child of racism, not the father

After the movie ended, I still watched the names run. Processing the whole message. I almost had stopped watching it. Because here Kerry Washington plays the role of a distressed mother, Kenny yet I am used to seeing her in control in Scandal.

It’s raining, there’s thunder and lightning. It’s 4am in the morning.

In the police waiting room, Kenny awaits information about her missing son. Jamal had disappeared from home the previous night after he and Kenny had an argument. It’s been 9 hours since he left home and the level of panic on Kenny goes to show how much fear African Americans live in. Usually, a missing persons report is issued after 48hours.

Image source; here

Jamal is half black half white. His father, who’s Irish, left them four months ago. He is late to arrive at the police lobby.

At first, when the movie begins, Kenny plays the role of an angry black woman. She is assisted by this newbie police officer Larkin. Officer Larkin is supposed to report to her on Jamal’s whereabouts. From the way he addresses the issue, it is clear he does not understand how much fear African Americans live in. He is not very helpful and he and Kenny often engage in shouting matches. He tells Kenny to wait for Lieutenant Stokes, who will properly brief her.

Her ex-husband Scott (Steven Pasquale) arrives. 

Kenny and Scott engage in a battle of words on their past relationship. On their son’s personal struggles. On the parts they’ve played in their son’s struggle. This riles them both up.

They push each other to have hard conversations surrounding race.

Eventually lieutenant Stokes comes. The two are riled up. The ex-husband Scott is angry and he insults the officers. He is taken to custody. Lieutenant Stokes addresses Kenny on the developments. He tells her nothing new from what she already knows.

After a few moments he is released.

They remember how they met. It hurts Kenny so much that Scott’s current partner is a white woman. It makes her question whether he liked her for her or for the fact that being with a black woman made him feel better about himself.

Lieutenant Stokes comes back later to them and narrates Jamal’s whereabouts. The information is related to a video they’d earlier watched. Scott’s brother had sent him.

Jamal was out in his new car, which had a bumper sticker ‘shoot cops with your camera phone’. The words ‘shoot cops’ are in a larger font than the rest.

He is out with two friends who the parents don’t know of.

A cop tails their car. He stops them. He gets their details and runs them on his computer. One of the occupants is wanted for Marijuana. As the cop is walking back towards them, one of the occupants steps out of the car. And so does the other who runs. Then Jamal comes out. The cop makes three stray shots.  Jamal is shot in the head. Killing him on the spot. 

See, Jamal is one of three black kids in an all white school. The two other black kids are gay. Which leaves him exposed. He is awakening to the fact that he is black and for that he will be looked at and treated differently.

He felt hurt and confused when his father left them because he looked up to him. Everytime he rebelled, he was trying to get his father’s attention. Doing cornrows, sagging pants, walking differently and the sticker on his car. Yes, that was to get back at his father who is FBI.

The movie ends with Kenny breaking down. Her worst fear as a mother to an African American son has come true. You can feel this in her cry..

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