American History X

Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay to Edward Norton is that his Oscar-nominated performance in American History X nearly convinces you that there is a shred of logic in the tenets of white supremacy. If that statement doesn't horrify you, it should; Norton is so fully immersed in his role as a neo-Nazi skinhead that his character's eloquent defense of racism is disturbingly persuasive--at least on the surface. Looking lean and mean with a swastika tattoo and a mind full of hate, Derek Vinyard (Norton) has inherited racism from his father, and that learning has been intensified through his service to Cameron (Stacy Keach), a grown-up thug playing tyrant and teacher to a growing band of disenfranchised teens from Venice Beach, California, all hungry for an ideology that fuels their brooding alienation. The film's basic message--that hate is learned and can be unlearned--is expressed through Derek's kid brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), whose sibling hero-worship increases after Derek is imprisoned (or, in Danny's mind, martyred) for the killing of two black men. Lacking Derek's gift of rebel rhetoric, Danny is easily swayed into the violent, hateful lifestyle that Derek disowns during his thoughtful time in prison. Once released, Derek struggles to save his brother from a violent fate, and American History X partially suffers from a mix of intense emotions, awkward sentiment, and predictably inevitable plotting. And yet British director Tony Kaye (who would later protest against Norton's creative intervention during post-production) manages to juggle these qualities--and a compelling clash of visual styles--to considerable effect. No matter how strained their collaboration may have been, both Kaye and Norton can be proud to have created a film that addresses the issue of racism with dramatically forceful impact. --Jeff Shannon

Genre: Crime, Drama
Production: New Line Cinema
  Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 13 nominations.
 
IMDB:
8.5
Metacritic:
62
Rotten Tomatoes:
83%
R
Year:
1998
119
Website
14,281 Views

Reporter:
Earlier today, L.A. County firefighter Dennis Vinyard was shot and killed battling a blaze at a suspected Compton drug den. We're at the Vinyard home now, and Lieutenant Vinyard's oldest son Derek has agreed to talk with us for a moment. Derek, if you could come down here, please, for a second. Look, I know this is tough, but how do you feel right now?

Derek Vineyard:
(younger, wearing a Venice Beach High Basketball jersey) How do you think I feel? I think it's typical.

Reporter:
Typical how?

Derek Vinyard:
Well, this country's becoming a haven for criminals, so what do you expect? Decent hard-working Americans like my dad are getting rubbed out by social parasites.

Reporter:
Parasites?

Derek Vinyard:
Blacks, browns, yellow, whatever.

Reporter:
I don't understand. You think maybe your father's murder was race-related?

Derek Vinyard:
Yeah, it's race-related! Every problem in this country is race-related! Not just crime...it's immigration, AIDS, welfare! Those are problems of the black community, the Hispanic community, the Asian community! They're not white problems!

Reporter:
Aren't those really issues that deal more with poverty?

Derek Vinyard:
No! They're not products of their environments! That's crap! Minorities don't give two shits about this country! They come here to exploit it, not to embrace it!

Reporter:
What does this have to do with the--

Derek Vinyard:
Millions of white Europeans came here and flourished within a generation! What the fuck is the matter with these people? They have to go around...shooting at firemen!

Reporter:
What does this have to do with the murder of your father?

Derek Vinyard:
Because my father was murdered doing his job! Putting out a fire in a fucking nigger neighborhood he shouldn't have given a shit about! He got shot by a fucking drug dealer who probably still collects a welfare check!

Doris Vinyard:
[approaching Derek] Honey, that's enough.

Dennis Vinyard:
So what is this "Native Son" ?

Derek Vinyard:
It's this book about this black guy. We're doing this whole black literature unit.

Dennis Vinyard:
What, is it Black History Month?

Derek Vinyard:
No, it's just this guy Sweeney, you know? It's part of the course now.

Dennis Vinyard:
Yeah...whatever. It's everywhere I look now.

Derek Vinyard:
What?

Dennis Vinyard:
This "affirmative blaction."

Doris Vinyard:
Honey, a few new books doesn't qualify as affirmative black action.

Dennis Vinyard:
Read the book, ace the guy's test...just don't swallow everything he feeds you whole. Just because you see it on the evening news...

Derek Vinyard:
I know, but what?

Dennis Vinyard:
All this stuff about making everything "equal..." it's not that simple. Now you've got this book "Native Son." What happened to the other books in the course? They're not good anymore because Mr. Two Ph.Ds says so? Now you got to trade great books for black books? Does that make sense? You gotta question these things, Der. You gotta look at the whole picture. We're talking about books...but we're also talking about my job. I've got two black guys on my squad now who got their job over a couple of white guys who actually scored higher on the test. Does that make sense? Everything's "equal" now, but I've got two guys watching my back...responsible for my life...who aren't as good. They only got the job because they were black, not because they were the best.

Derek Vinyard:
That sucks.

Dennis Vinyard:
Yeah, is that what America's about? No, America's about the best man for the job. You do your best, you get the job. This affirmative action crap--I don't know what that's about. There's like some hidden agenda or something going on. You see what I'm saying?

Derek Vinyard:
Yeah, I do. I didn't think about it like that...This Sweeney guy though, he just comes on so strong. It's hard not to listen to him. I guess some of what he says though, it's kind of--

Dennis Vinyard:
It's bullshit.

Derek Vinyard:
Yeah...yeah, maybe.

Dennis Vinyard:
No. It's nigger bullshit. You see that, don't you?

Derek Vinyard:
Yeah.

Dennis Vinyard:
You got to watch out for that.

Derek Vinyard:
Yeah. No, I get what you're saying. I will.

Dennis Vinyard:
(pats Derek on the back) Good boy. I'm proud of you.

Derek Vinyard:
If he had, though? Come on, think about it. If that fucking monkey had run some kid over, everybody would have a very different opinion of this whole matter! They'd be focused on Rodney King and not on these officers. But instead, he just attacked a few cops. And so suddenly, it's Hands Across America for this fucking total son of a bitch. I mean, it blows my mind. We're so hung up on this notion that we have some obligation to help this struggling black man, cut him some slack until he can overcome these historical injustices. It's crap. This stuff just perpetuates it and all this liberal nonsense. Everyone's looking the other way while our country rots from the inside out. I mean, Christ, Lincoln freed the slaves, in like; 130 years ago. How long does it take to get your act together?

Murray:
Well, Jews have been persecuted for over 5,000 years. Are you saying it's wrong to feel sensitive about anti-Semitism?

Stacey:
Oh, forget that. I'm with you. I'm with you all the way, baby. I'm so sick of these liberal hypocrites.

Davina:
Oh, here we go again. I love this part. This is great.

Stacey:
Well, look at the way how they scapegoated Chief Gates. You tell me to think they would've come down that hard on black Willie Williams? No way. That videotape was a set-up to get rid of Gates!

Davina:
[to Doris, illuminatingly] Can I please be excused?

Doris Vinyard:
Yes…

Derek Vinyard:
No! No, you cannot. Don't interrupt.

Stacey:
Excuse me, I was talking. I listened to you.

Derek Vinyard:
Don't interrupt her!

Davina:
Who the hell do you think you are?

Derek Vinyard:
She's right in the middle of making the point!

Davina:
[storms up out of her chair] Who the hell do you think you are? [This made Derek Vinyard very furious.]

Derek Vinyard:
[storms up too] Hey! Davina, sit down. No, sit down!

[As they argue furiously just as Murray tries to explain…]

Derek Vinyard:
[just as Davina tries to push him] No, sit your ass down! No, sit down. Shut your mouth. No. Sit down, shut your mouth and give my girlfriend some respect!

Murray:
[annoyed] Derek, what are you trying to prove?

Derek Vinyard:
Murray, stay out of it! [pulls Davina's hair to stop her from leaving] Come here! Hey, what do you think you're going?

Doris Vinyard:
No!!!!

Murray:
[as Derek grabs a piece of ham off the plate] Derek, let her go! Derek, let her go!

Derek Vinyard:
[angrily shoves a piece of ham on Davina's mouth] You need to learn some fucking manners, Davina. Shut your fucking mouth!

Danny Vinyard:
Derek! Stop! [Davina chokes on the meat, and tries to muffle with no words.]

Murray:
She can't breathe!

Doris Vinyard:
[pulls Derek's shoulder] Let… her… GO!!!

Derek Vinyard:
Are you gonna apologize? Are you?!?

Davina:
You're a fucking asshole!

Doris Vinyard:
I hate you!

Murray:
What are you doing Derek? This is your family.

Derek Vinyard:
Right, my family, my family, so you know what? I don't give two shits about you or anybody else or what they think. You're not a part of it and you never will be.

Murray:
That has nothing to do with it!

Derek Vinyard:
Oh it doesn't? You don't think I see what you're trying to do here? You think I'm gonna sit here and smile while some fucking kike tries to fuck my mother? It's never gonna happen Murray, fucking forget it, not on my watch, not while I'm still in this family. I will fucking cut your Shylock nose off and stick it up your ass before I let that happen. Coming here and poison my family's dinner with your Jewish, Nigger-loving, hippie bullshit. Fuck you! Fuck you! Yeah, walk out, asshole, fucking Cabala reading motherfucker. Get the fuck out of my house.[flashes swastica tattoo] see this, this means not welcome.

Cameron:
I understand how you feel, I mean, you just got finished doing some hard time and...

Derek Vineyard:
Don't you fuckin' talk to me about hard time, you don't know a thing about it!

Cameron:
Hey, I've done mine.

Derek Vineyard:
You didn't do shit, I found out about your little prison story. You did two months and then you rolled over on two kids and let them go down for you, so don't feed me your fucking lies, Cameron.

Cameron:
Alright, This is stupid. I'm done. You go cool off, get laid, do something, get your head on straight. Then I'll talk to you.

Derek Vinyard:
Yeah, but it doesn't even really matter if I don't, does it? 'Cause you got the next crop already lined up and ready to go you fuckin' chicken hawk!

Cameron:
Excuse me?

Derek Vinyard:
You prey on people, Cam! You use 'em! I lost three years of my life for your fuckin' phony cause, but I'm onto you now, you fuckin' snake!

Cameron:
Hey, Derek, watch it, watch it. Be careful, remember where you are this is not some fuckin' country club where you can waltz in and outta here as you choose...

Derek Vinyard:
Shut up! Shut the fuck up! I came here, to tell you one thing, I am out! OUT! And Danny's out too, and if you come near my family again, I'm gonna fucking kill you!

Cameron:
Excuse me, but fuck you, Derek. You can't come in here barking threats at *me*. Look, you can do whatever you want, but Danny is a good kid. He's not some whiny pussy like you. He needs my help and I'm going to give it to him.

Derek Vinyard:
If you come near Danny again, I will feed you your fucking heart, Cameron.

Cameron:
I won't have to. He'll come to me. I'm more important to him now than you'll ever be.

[Derek slugs Cameron in the face; Cameron falls to the floor]

Derek Vinyard:
Shit!

Cameron:
You're a fucking dead man, Vinyard.

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