American History X commentary by Jenna Johnson
â€śAmerican History Xâ€? was indeed a shocking portrait of the ugliness that humans can possess if influenced ever slightly in the wrong way. We know that one main argument about this film is its stance on racism, whether it be pro or anti. The film shows qualities of both, I assert, which are fleshed out mainly by Edward Nortonâ€™s character, Derek. Beck stated that Derek â€śshows the very different sides of the character as villain and hero. Although the latter image is one offered for the audienceâ€™s approval, the former one may very well have the greater impact.â€? That is, the inhumanity seen in Derekâ€™s character as the leader of his â€śskinheadâ€? gang is gruesome enough and strong enough to almost wipe out his redemption, thus making the film very much racist. For example, black stereotypes in the film are more unintentional I think, but they are still there, when most of the men in the prison are black, when it is black men who are breaking into Derekâ€™s car, and even when it is black men who will fight at the drop of a hat on the neighborhood basketball court. Especially seen and spoken through the eyes of mostly the gang Derek and Danny are tangled up with, the feelings of white power and racism are prominent in this film.
This film takes a great turn while Derek is in prison and upon his release. As Finley states, the film â€śimplies that prison is an effective way to reform racist individuals yet we know that in reality many racists formulated their notions of white superiority while incarcerated.â€? We see that Derek is a good measure of the way prison supposedly reforms racists, and Finley goes on to say how Derek â€śbecomes almost a sympathetic character.â€? In this light, as Derek discontinues his old ways and tries to get his brother and other friends to follow suit, he does become somewhat part of the â€śwhite heroâ€? myth, not for reasons of power, but for his personal triumphs against racial emotions and violence towards minorities. We can only hope that after the ending scene, where his brother is shot by one of his black schoolmates, that Derekâ€™s experiences have been changing enough to prevent a recession into his past behaviors.