Stage adaptation superficially grapples with complex issues.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that American Son is a Netflix original movie that deals with issues of racism, racial identity, and police brutality. Starring Kerry Washington, the movie is based on a Broadway play of the same name and features the same cast. It's very dialogue-heavy, as characters argue their perspectives and experiences on complex subjects. Unfortunately, the film stays at an uninformed surface level while exploring these mature themes, so it's not a great introduction to discussions about how race and police brutality are intertwined. Strong language is frequent and includes the "N" word. Violence, specifically gun violence, is central to the story but is all off-screen, and part of the storyline involves characters buying marijuana, which is also off-screen.
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What's the Story?
AMERICAN SON begins with Kendra Ellis-Connor (Kerry Washington) in an empty waiting room at the police station, waiting for information about her son, Jamal, who didn't come home last night. The officer on duty (Jeremy Jordan) is especially unhelpful, and Kendra thinks that race may have something to do with it: She is Black, he is White. When her estranged husband (Steven Pasquale) shows up, himself a White police officer, it further complicates the situation and heightens the tension between the three of them.
Is It Any Good?
Movie adaptations of stage plays can be tricky, if for no other reason than that theater is a verbal medium while film is visual. American Son, based on a 2018 Broadway play with the same cast, has minimal visual intrigue and relies almost solely on its dialogue to drive the narrative. It is, effectively, a 90-minute argument about race, racial identity, and police brutality. But American Son chooses pure melodrama over thoughtful, informed debate, so it consistently undermines any real impact it could have.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Jamal's racial identity. What does Kendra try to teach her son about the way the world works? How does that affect his behavior? How does her point of view impact her relationships with the other characters in the movie?
What does American Son say about the relationship between police procedure and race? Do you think it effectively makes its point?
The characters in American Son are all extremely articulate about their beliefs, which are often in conflict. Do you think the actors succeed at their performances? What kind of feelings do they evoke?
- On DVD or streaming: November 1, 2019
- Cast: Kerry Washington, Jeremy Jordan
- Director: Kenny Leon
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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