Let’s Talk About the Netflix Movie “American Son”

Those who keep up with their Netflix releases likely have seen the new release as of November 1, American Son. The film, originally a Broadway play, tells the story of two parents trying to find where their son has gone that night. While the concept may be simple, the factors of the movie are anything but. The mother, Kendra (Kerry Washington) and the father Scott (Steven Pasquale) are a biracial couple attempting to care for their adult child amidst their crumbling marriage. Kerry is constantly worried about her large, African American son among a world that isn’t as safe as he has grown up thinking. Scott, having left his home, is struggling to keep his son on the path he has set him on his entire life. The film deals with a wide range of subject matter that involves race, gender, relationships, and power struggles all stuck in one room. Yes, I said one room. Much like the play, the movie takes place in one, quiet, police station waiting room as the rain pours in the early morning.

Their son, Jamal, according to Kendra is a sweetheart who likes Emily Dickinson and has a bashful smile. While he is a sweet kid, the world might not see him as such because he’s over 6 feet tall, 270 pounds and dark-skinned. He has gone to prestigious private schools all his life, yet feels as though he is an outsider. In an off-screen conversation, Jamal calls himself “the face of the race” in his white-washed school that only has three other black kids. In recent times Jamal has begun to find more of his own identity, getting cornrows and not dressing in business attire he mimicked from Scott. Kendra, while allowing him to “find himself” after Scott left, kept a close eye on him not to fall into the typical “black stereotypes” that perpetuate this country. Kendra fears losing her son to racism, bigotry, and unnecessary fear of those with darker skin. A black mother’s fear of losing her children is all too real with Kendra but is a sentiment that Scott can never understand living male, white, and privileged. Even Scott, Jamal’s own father, is quick to judge and spew micro-aggressions towards his own son. Kendra feels isolated and manic for the safety of her son. 

American Son not only beautifully executes the one-room scene, but the entire production only has four characters to ever show their face on screen. Kendra, Scott, a newbie cop by the name of Larkin (Jeremy Jordan), and the Lieutenant Stokes (Eugene Lee), who only appears later in the movie. The relationship between Kendra and Officer Larkin is the first one observed on-screen and is clearly one of tension and judgment. The relationship between Kendra, an African American woman, and Officer Larkin, a white police officer is immediately strained because of the preconceived notions they come into the situation with. Kendra is obviously distressed about her missing son but Officer Larkin brushes off her distress, clearly because of her position as an African American woman. Officer Larkin is full of microaggressions that make Kendra enraged, not giving Officer Larkin the reason to help her out as he is supposed to follow protocol. The relationship between Scott, an FBI agent, and Officer Larkin starts off well as Scott attempts to make up for Kendra’s “behavior” but is quickly thrown out the window as the situation is drawn out. The entrance of Lieutenant Stokes later in the movie just adds another layer to an already-dense, multi-layered subject matter. 

This film is exactly what the world needs to see so everyone can have a visual representation of the current climate of the United States. While we hear descriptions of Jamal, we never see his face. Jamal could be any young, African American boy that somehow got wrapped up with the police. There is so much to this movie that reading reviews and trailers won’t really get you into that room the way the movie will. I encourage those of all national origin, race, gender, and background to watch American Son and see the reality of a couple who just want to answer a simple question. Where is Jamal?