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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'American History X': A Searing Depiction of Neo-Racism and Fractional Familial Redemption

 Movie poster for the 1998 film American History X

American History X (1998) is a searing drama starring Edward Norton as Derek Vineyard, a reformed neo-Nazi released from prison 3 years after the manslaughter of two black burglars. Reuniting with his younger brother Danny (Edward Furlong), Derek is deeply dismayed to find that his sibling has replaced him in the white supremacist gang "The Disciples of Christ" (D.O.C.).

In flashback, we see Derek and Danny mourning the murder of their fireman father Dennis (William Russ) by African-American drug dealers—igniting Derek's fiercely racist worldview. His prejudice is solidified under the tutelage of D.O.C. leader Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), who advocates an extreme brand of sectarianism. Derek's ultimate imprisonment becomes a period of surprising rehabilitation, however, and his release finds him fervently committed to dissuading Danny from following in his all-too shameful footsteps.

Directed by music video director Tony Kaye in his feature film debut, American History X is a forceful depiction of abject racism and the familial seeds of intolerance. Norton delivers a powerhouse performance as Derek, inhabiting a role characterizing 3 dramatically contrasting stages of his evolution. Hard-hitting and admittedly unsettling at times, it's one of the most brutally honest vessels of social realism in modern cinema.


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