American History X

Never before has the filmviewing public been sensitized to the conditions that spawn the American neo-Nazism of the skinheads. In American History X, British-born Tony Kaye zeroes in on race relations within the United States in graphic detail (though he has attempted to dissociate himself from the film because the studio has changed a lot in an effort to sell to a wider public). Imagine living in an all-White neighborhood with little crime, where children walk to school in peace. Next, fast forward to the time when African Americans are buying homes closer to your own home, getting jobs with a few points less on civil service tests than your White friends, attending a formerly peaceful all-White school, and taking over a public park with sheer numbers. If you cannot afford to move elsewhere or just prefer to stay, what do you do? For the protagonist in the film, joining a neo-Nazi hate group, challenging African Americans, and using violence seems OK . . . that is, until he finds himself in prison. Serving a three-year sentence for murder because a jury excuses his violence as self-defense against two African Americans trying to steal his truck, he realizes that his White brothers are running a racket that he detests. He also discovers a congenial African American serving six years for stealing a television set that happened to fall on the foot of a police officer when he stumbled out of the store; he saves his life in prison as an outcast. Soon, the political arguments against a racially integrated America seem overtaken by the realization that a more peaceful approach is the only way to have peace of mind as well as peace in society. But how? Is it too late? When do we get the sequel? Our hero’s conversion to a more peaceful approach is an individual one, will not convince the skinheads who happen to see the film, but gives us all a more profound understanding of the tensions of fin-de-siècle race relations in urban America. Liberal arguments for peaceful integration are shouted down by the articulate neo-Nazi in the early part of the film, but everyday experience alongside a decent African American later turns the tide. MH