TV Review - American Son (2019)
Kerry Washington (Confirmation and Scandal) stars as Kendra Ellis, a black woman who is a teacher with a doctorate who lives and works in Miami. She's divorced and has one child, a teenage son. The story opens with her sitting alone in the lobby of a police station. It's late in the night and close to morning. It's pouring rain outside. She's constantly calling her son's cell phone. He's not responding and she keeps leaving him voicemails. It's revealed that the car her son was driving had been involved in an incident with police and she's now at the station to find out what the incident is and where her son is. She assumes that he's been arrested and she wants answers as to why because she believes she has raised her son not to get into trouble.
It's not to say that Kendra doesn't pick up on them, but she can never say for sure. The bulk of her interactions with him are the result of microaggressions that she perceives. These microaggressions are meant to reveal the first, racial bias and that is how police perceive young, black men. Paul never verbalizes it to Kendra, but that perception is police seeing young black men as thugs, gang members or just potential criminals. Usually, black boys in the eyes of the police are always guilty, even if it's guilty by association. Even their names are perceived as being suspect.
It also becomes specifically about identity and how a young biracial man is supposed to identify. It's reminiscent of the recent film Luce (2019), except that film had a slightly different dynamic going on. It also had the young man's point-of-view included in the film. This adaptation doesn't include the young man's point-of-view. This adaptation is told exclusively from the perspective of the parents. That's because this movie wants to be about the conversations that parents of black or biracial boys have to have, specifically in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. This adaptation gets to a lot of the nitty-gritty about how parents have to raise their black or biracial boys to behave in order to survive in a world that is more inclined to be biased against them and possibly kill them.
Washington's performance is very breathless and sucks up a lot of oxygen. She portrays a kind of fear that is most specifically unique to black women who are mothers to black or biracial boys. Her fear is a constant worry that has such deep, historical roots in the racism of this country going back decades. It might seem irrational, but, for many black people, the historical racism isn't as historical as white people might believe it is. That racism is very much present. The ending though is such wallowing in that racism and a kind of defeat that I haven't seen in other films or TV shows about Black Lives Matter. Obviously, Black Lives Matter cases in reality do end in a kind of defeated feeling for black families, but there's always a resolve to work to change things. This adaptation doesn't give us that. There's seemingly no hope given here.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.
Available on Netflix.