American Son came almost intact from a Broadway show into this film. It feels like you’re watching a live play. There’s one set, four actors (the same four that played these parts on Broadway), and blocking and acting that looks like a stage play.
Kerry Washington plays Kendra. She’s in a police station waiting room at 3 AM, trying to get a white Officer Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) to give her some help finding her missing son.
Officer Larkin won’t tell her anything. He’s racist. She’s full of rage. They talk around each other and can’t cooperate. He keeps telling her they must wait for the AM Liaison officer Lt. Stokes (Eugene Lee) to arrive. Finally he tells her there was an incident involving her son’s car, but no more.
Kendra’s estranged husband Scott (Steven Pasquale) shows up. He’s a white man. An FBI agent with a badge on his belt.
Larkin, who is a new officer, mistakes Scott for Lt. Stokes. He tells him more than he told Kendra and complains that Kendra is a real bitch. When Larkin’s mistake is cleared up, Kendra and Scott are left alone to wait with the new information.
Kendra and Scott rehash a lot of old arguments, new pain and anguish caused by Scott leaving four months ago, and concerns over their son Jamal. These parents argue, reminisce, and learn tiny bits of new information about Jamal. The emotional arc they go through is deep and real and powerful.
It was painful to watch the emotional depth coming from the scared and worried parents. They questioned everything about how they brought up Jamal, what they wanted for him. Kendra blamed Scott for leaving. They blamed each other for raising him like a privileged white boy and never teaching him how to be a black boy during an “incident” with the police.
Kerry Washington was the black experience in a racist world. She was. Her pain, her rage, her fear, and her agony contained a universe of suffering.
I hate arguments. It was uncomfortable to watch the two parents argue, especially because the writing was so precise. It was painful to watch how the police handled the situation. It was painful to know what an eighteen year old 6’2″ black man with an IQ of 150 and an admission to West Point secured would face in a traffic stop.
Actually, everything about this film is painful and heart wrenching. But true. That’s the really painful thing: it’s so true.
American Son has not had good reviews. It’s too theatrical or too this or too that. It isn’t perfect. But it’s strong.
I’m sure the people who are clicking on this first on Netflix are Black folks. But this film isn’t really meant for Black folks. They don’t need to know this story. White folks need to know this story. White people need to let Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale take them on this journey, help them feel it.
Here’s the trailer. It will give you an idea whether this film is for you or not. It can break your heart.