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American Son – Racial Inequality in the eyes of the Law.

The Film “American Son”, tackles the major themes of racism, injustice and police brutality, by telling the story of an interracial couple, who find themselves stricken with worry, over the fact that their 18-year-old son is missing. The mother, named Ellis Connor, wakes up one night and realizes her son, Jamal never came home, which is unusual behavior for him. She attempts to contact him through his cell phone and he doesn’t answer. She decides to call the police and inevitably heads to the police station, and then calls the child’s father. 

            Once she arrives at the police station she is met with an officer who is blatantly rude, as well as dismissive of the problem.  Refuses to give her any information regarding the case and fails to even try to hide the prejudice’s he has in front of the worried mother. She is suspicious of the officer’s true intentions and assumes that the color of her skin is the underlying factor that is resulting in his obscene behavior. Something that black women in America know all too well.  I felt especially drawn to the story of the mother within this film. Portrayed by Kerry Washington, she played the role of a black mother, frustrated by the inability of the world to listen to her words and take them seriously. We still live in a world in which this scenario continues to get played out. Black people, not just women, within the criminal justice system, or when having ANY interaction with law enforcement find themselves, being demeaned and overlooked. Have their truths be turned away and unheard because of the systematic racism that still runs through the veins of this country. In a way, this story relates to Harper Lee’s to kill a Mockingbird. The parallel between the characters of Tom Robinson and Ms. Ellis Connor, is hard to miss. Major themes that have been displayed in both bodies of work include, the presence of inequality at the social and legal stage. No, these characters do not share the same story but their struggles are similar. Both having to fight to have their truths believed by the public. Both experiencing symptoms of the generational trauma against black American’s. Over 50 years apart. 

            Once the father arrives, the police officer mistakes him for the lead investigator because Jamal’s father is white. Before he realizes he begins to spill out information regarding the case that he purposely, refused to disclose to Jamal’s mother. This is where the film begins to highlight and contrast how the criminal justice system treats white people versus how they treat black people. It becomes clearly apparent that the two parents of Jamal have plenty of disagreements over how their son should be raised and how the world may view their bi-racial child.  Mr. Conner associates Jamal’s disappearance to the fact that he has begun to embrace his black roots. By hanging around other black kids, and wearing cornrows, Mr. Connor thinks that “Ghetto hair and hanging with black delinquents is a big risk.” But Mrs. Ellis Connor describes their son Jamal’s behavior as attempting to figure out who he is, and making sense of being surrounded constantly by white people. She describes an incident in which Jamal explains to her that he feels as if he is the “face of the race.”  The people around him look to him as the only black boy in the room. The poster child for all of their questions, and all of their glares. People who do not share the same lineage, traits or struggles. Something that I often times face, being a black woman at a PWI. Whenever the discussion is brought to race, I have to look around and see that everyone is already staring at me. For anyone, this can be especially hard. It makes you feel as if you are an outsider, it makes you feel like, the world looks at you as this object, and not a person with feelings. Jamal’s father however, does not understand this concept and decides that this is just some “Victimhood Psychobabble”, projected at him by his mother Mrs. Ellis Connor. He does not see his son as a black male, he does everything in his power to not see the color of his son’s skin. But he fails to realize, that not seeing Jamal’s color of skin, is to not see Jamal for who he is, a black male. 

            Unfortunately for Mr. and Mrs. Connor, their worst fears were realized when the true investigator of the case, comes and explains that Jamal was involved in a traffic stop gone wrong. He had been with two other black males, who both had warrants out for their arrest. When asked to get out of the car and wait in the rain, Jamal made one critical false move. His movement away from the car caused the officer to shoot Jamal in the head, instantly killing him.  This story is the ending that many black Americans will face and have faced in this country, and even the world. It is a story that truly depicts the actions of law enforcement, as well as the fears of the parents of those who have begun to be entangled within the criminal justice system. 

One thought on “American Son – Racial Inequality in the eyes of the Law.”

  1. Thanks for this powerful response, Ny’Tevia. I’m going to need to watch this film! I am interested in the point of connection you draw between it and To Kill a Mockingbird, in which mothers are notably absent, and I wonder what that contrast might help us better understand about what it means to include or exclude mothers from stories about racial injustice in the legal system. (I’m thinking back also to our conversation in class about the role of grieving mothers in Long Night’s Journey Into Day.) Something to think more about!


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