Racism, from its inception during the days of slavery to the “Black Lives Matter” movement of the 21st century, has always been powerfully depicted in all kinds of mediums. While films like ‘12 Years of Slave‘ reflect on some disturbingly realistic events from history, there are other films that portray how, to an extent, racism is still pertinent in our society. ‘American Son’ does something similar and by showing the harrowing experience of a mother who grieves for her son, the film takes you on an emotional ride with its impactful dialogues and compelling storyline. In the end, it leaves you with several contrasting notions revolving around discrimination and also makes you empathize with those who have been facing it. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Netflix’s ‘American Son’ revolves around a black woman named Kendra who frantically worries about her missing son and to report this, she arrives at a police station at 4 in the morning. When a cop finally reaches out to her, initially, her concern seems to be a bit exaggerated as her son is 18 years old and could be out doing “teenage things” with his friends. When the white cop dismisses her plea for help by questioning her about her son’s involvement with gangs or any form of criminal activity, she begins to realize that the cop is stereotyping her son just because of his racial background. A heated feud ensues between the two, after which the cop finally gives in and claims that he will further investigate the case.
Soon after this, Kendra’s ex-husband, Scott, reaches the venue and by flaunting his FBI badge, he immediately demands respect. Unsurprisingly, the white cop reveals more information to him and even treats him better because he’s white. Kendra and Scott, who still seem to have some unresolved issues from their previous marriage, start arguing with one another and Scott even tries to gaslight her. But being much vigorous than she used to be, she stands her ground and makes him realize how his negligence towards his family affected the mental health of his son. Finally, when Scott and Kendra start untangling the toxic ties of their previous relationship, they are forced to face the disturbing consequences of their actions.
Why Did Scott Walk Out on his Family?
When FBI Agent Scott Conor, played by Steven Pasquale, first makes his appearance in the movie, he comes off as a very commanding figure who easily governs respect from the white cop who was previously intentionally disregarding his ex-wife. As unruffled as he may initially seem, he starts breaking down when his wife sheds some light on their son’s current mental state. With this, Scott, who was previously quite convinced that he knew his son really well, begins to question his own decision of deserting his family.
From the beginning itself, it becomes obvious that Kendra and Scott have not really been in good terms after their divorce and Kendra still holds a lot of grudges against him. But as much as she despises his presence, she restrains from telling him the truth about the impact that their divorce had on their son.
When he first discovers that his son drives around with a huge sticker on the car bumper that says “Shoot cops with your camera phone whenever they make a bust”, he gets an outburst of rage and complains about how his son wants to kill men like him who are simply doing their job. Kendra then tries to calm him down by explaining that, for obvious reasons, the sticker is a mere joke and means nothing.
Somewhere between their condescending arguments that revolve around racial injustice and Scott’s naiveness towards the matter, Kendra tells him the truth about what her son really goes through in his school which is full of upper-class white boys. She opens up his eyes to the fact that their son has been depressed for a while and often looks down on himself as the “face of a race”. All of this brings out a rather polar side of Scott where he begins to feel sorry for his past decisions and even tries to get close to his ex-wife again.
She resists his advances and asks him why he left them in the first place. With a demented look his face, he lets out a shivery “I don’t know”. This clearly reflects how he is now beginning to regret the decisions of his past and he even claims that he is not in love with his present wife.
Probably, when he was with Kendra, he did love her but was drawn away by her notions of racial segregation. He probably left her because these ideas were always in dissonance with his own identity of being a privileged white male who has never been labeled as “the face of a race”. That’s probably the reason why he later ended up with a white woman. But later in the story, when he realizes that his ex-wife’s angsty rants revolving around her race were not just a reflection of her insecurities but also held a lot of truth, he is filled with a sense of regret.
The Ending: How did Jamal Die?
Somewhere between their unfailing arguments, Scott receives a video from his brother—who is also a cop—on his phone. Expecting it to be something mundane, he plays the video. It turns out that the video is footage of a recent crime where a cop shot down a young black male. The actual video is never displayed in the film but from the audio, one can clearly tell that something went down between the cop and three black men in the video and eventually, the cop was forced to fire shots at one of them.
When Scott and Kendra watch the video, though it’s not all that clear at first, Kendra notices that one of the boys in it is actually wearing the exact same shirt that her son was wearing that night. Now almost certain that something bad has happened to their son, Conor lashes out on the white cop who seems to be unaware of the video.
This is when Lieutenant Stokes steps in and takes control of the situation. In the final moments of the movie, Stokes finally reveals that Jamal was in a car—previously registered by his father—with two other black men, one of whom (Bell Jarvis), was wanted on a misdemeanor warrant for the possession of marijuana. When their car was pulled over by a cop on duty, for obvious reasons, the one driving it was asked to step out. The cop who had trailed them had previously witnessed one of them purchasing a nickel bag of marijuana. Bell, who was driving the car, was later pulled over by a patrol car and was identified by the cop as an offender. When Bell tried to approach the officer, he was knocked down to the ground.
While the officer called for backup, the second black male stepped out of the car and was followed by Jamal who was only following protocol by placing his hands on the hood. In the process, he slipped and with this, Bell stood up and attempted to flee from the scene. The cop, who now felt confronted by all three, fired his gun at the closest suspect—Jamal. One-shot hit Jamal straight on his head and killed him on the spot.
In one of the scenes, Kendra describes how she had a heated conflict with her son and how she even said some really toxic things to him that she did not mean. This probably fueled all the frustration of the young man who, for once, decided to throw all the expectations of his mother out of the window and decided to go out to be with other people who would not look at him indifferently. The sticker on the back of his car could have possibly been a trigger for the cop who confronted them and Bell’s obvious rap sheet probably made the cop even more suspicious.
Was Jamal Innocent?
It becomes pretty evident that Jamal is innocent and his only mistake was that he got himself involved with questionable men like Bell. While Jamal’s past is the perfect portrayal of how he would never even think of getting himself involved in a crime, even the events that describe the final crime scene suggest that Jamal was the only one who was willing to cooperate with the cop interrogating them. But for some reason, to an extent, even the events described in Stokes’ file seemed manipulated. Probably, after realizing that an innocent young man like Jamal, who had no criminal records, was killed, the cops involved in the case must have orchestrated the events in their favor. And therefore the question arises, will the man who killed Jamal be punished or will he walk free? We will never know!
Read More: American Son Review