‘American Son’: right message, wrong approach

By Leda Edwards, Managing Editor


Over the years, there has been a lot of media attention surrounding the issue of police brutality on black bodies, like with the shootings of Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and many others. 

That is why I was excited to hear that Kenny Leon’s Broadway play “American Son” was coming to life on Netflix, in hopes that the movie would accurately portray the intensity of losing a loved one to the hands of a police officer and bring more awareness to this issue.

Unfortunately for me, I struggled to get through the mediocrity of the film. If I had four words to describe this movie, it would be “racism for white people.” 

Kendra (Kerry Washington) and Scott (Steven Pasquale) Connor are the parents of the unseen American son, Jamal Connor. 

The entire movie is shot in one place: a room in a police station. As the film opens with a quote from author Ta-Nehisi Coates and the camera slowly pans past the rainy window onto the impatiently waiting Kendra Connor, something just screamed cliché to me. 

While I can see why Leon chose to keep the film adaption as close to the play as possible, I honestly believe that the one-room scene did not do the movie justice. 

Yes, Kendra’s emotions are better explicitly shown within the confinement of this one room, but the irrelevant and cringe-worthy performances delivered by the other three actors ruined it for me. 

Throughout the entire movie, the main focus is pushed further and further back by the bickering between Kendra and Scott. Kendra delivers some interesting, yet very obvious messages about racism and stereotyping of black people in America.

I was more upset that some of Kendra’s messages were very basic in nature and drawn out. It seemed as though for the entire movie, she kept having to reiterate the fact that “racism is bad” and that was by far the most annoying part. 

Scott and the white police officer represented the white audience watching the film, and Kendra was their teacher.

As a black woman myself, having to see Scott be so privileged that he is ignorant to his own son’s reality of living in American society as a black man was very frustrating. 

One would think that if Kendra and Scott were married for over 18 years, they would have had this conversation multiple times over by now. Instead, Scott is still seen as ignorant to the black American experience, even at one point in the movie criticizing Kendra for naming their son “Jamal.” Really Kendra? You could do better. 

“American Son” has a good message, but the way in which the message was executed could have been much better. Vocally, Kerry Washington’s gut wrenching performance as a black mother who is on the brink of losing her son was amazing, but her desperate attempt at trying to convey these emotions through her facial expression was not. 

Seriously, she squints her face over 20 times (I lost count) and never once sheds a tear. If that’s not cringy enough for you, ask the internet. 

I won’t spoil the ending for those who have not seen it, but if you’re able to get past the long drawn out scenes about racism being bad, you’ll come to find out that the ending isn’t all that satisfying either. What happens is what we all figured would happen from the beginning of the movie — it just took 90 minutes for Leon to tell us.