Racial tensions have intensified over the last few years in the States and with it a lot of people are choosing sides that have only become more polarized as tensions further increase. A combination of unpunished irresponsible actions from law enforcement, misinformation, protests, and a president whose campaign further polarized the masses, has created an atmosphere that is somewhat reminiscent in the film American History X.
American History X portrays a prominent neo-Nazi, Derek Vinyard, as he murders two black people trying to steal his truck, his incarnation for voluntary manslaughter, and is subsequent reformation of his white supremacist ways while in prison. While in prison he is confronted with a crisis of beliefs as he sees the Aryan Brotherhood gang working with gangs of other ethnicities and decides to leave, his punishment is to be beaten and sodomized (that’s right… in the butt) in the prison showers by the Aryan Brotherhood. Derek distances himself from the Brotherhood by spending the rest of his sentence largely alone and only befriending his black partner, Lamont, in his prison laundry job.
During this time reading alone, Derek learns the error of his ways and upon his release he severs ties with his neo-Nazi gang on the outside and makes it clear that his brother is no longer to be associated with them either. Around Derek’s release Danny Vinyard, Derek’s brother, has been tasked with writing an essay on his brother. Derek shares his experiences in prison and new outlook on life and prompts Danny to change. The essay reflects on why Danny adopted his Nazi beliefs and why they are wrong. Before handing this paper in, Danny was gets shot by a black student who he had been in conflict with.
The final lines of his paper states “Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it.” This idea of this film is that racism achieves nothing and is a waste of your life, which is a powerful message that is as poignant today as it was in 1998.
Aside from the impressive plot, the movies starred a fresh Edward Norton who portrayed the character very convincingly as well as several other great actors. A personal favorite being Avery Brooks. The movie cost roughly $20 million to make and only grossed about $24 million in box offices domestically. IMDB gave it 8.6 out of 10 so while it may not have been a box office success it is surely a movie that you need to watch.