American Son

Movie review by
Marty Brown, Common Sense Media
American Son Movie Poster Image
Stage adaptation superficially grapples with complex issues.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Attempts to grapple with complex issues like racial identity and police brutality, but ill-informed dialogue and poor character development lessen its impact.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Brings three central characters together to address race and police brutality. One character is Black, two police officers are White, and the son at the center of the story is biracial. Tension builds as they explore their different perspectives, but the movie stays very surface-level. It seems more concerned with those topics as buzzwords than in actually digging into complex issues. 


Violence, gun violence specifically, is central. A character is revealed to have been fatally shot in the head. No violence is seen on-screen. Arguments get very heated as tension builds throughout.


Sex is only spoken about, and not in depth.


Profanity is used frequently. Lots of racially charged language, including the "N" word and some racist euphemisms.


The brand of car the son was driving is mentioned repeatedly.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Features some conversation around drinking and drugs, but no actual drinking or drug use is depicted. Part of the off-screen story involves teenagers buying marijuana. 

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymovielover108 October 21, 2020

Must See

This movie is an incredible movie, adapted from the play "American Son" which was on broadway for about 6-7 months. This movie clearly depicts the str... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old June 7, 2020

American Son

Wow. Great movie. Be most mindful of language. The first half of the movie isn't bad (alls is good (you'll understand the reference if you watch it... Continue reading

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? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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