American History X Film Analysis

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The film I chose to do my reflection paper on is called American History X, and is one of my all-time favorites. The movie is about a man named Derek Vinyard, an impressionable young man who becomes involved in a “white power” gang after the murder of his father. After Derek’s incarceration, his younger brother, Daniel Vinyard, idolizes him and begins to go down the exact same path. Throughout Derek’s time in prison he realized that he was manipulated by a man named Cameron, and his entire outlook on race was wrong. His teacher, Dr. Sweeney, helps him overcome his anger and set him on a path to save his younger brother from the same fate.

The beginning of the movie starts out with a brief flashback of the night Derek was arrested. A few black gang members are armed outside of his house. Without hesitation, Derek goes out his front door and murders them all. Danny witnesses the ruthless killings, and is traumatized. Even though Derek caused his family many hardships, Danny still thought of him as a hero and wanted to be the epitome of his older brother. He started associating with a man named Cameron Alexander, the leader of their “white power” subculture. It is explained in the film that there were no white gangs in Venice Beach before Cameron Alexander came along. After Cameron and Derek became friends, he used Derek for his popularity to gain more members for his white gang. Stigmas against all non-whites were the backbone to their success. They created an entire subculture together, by manipulating frustrated white kids who were tired of being threatened by black gangs. Their subculture was viewed as deviant to anyone on the outside, but as deviance is relative, they were taking back what was rightfully theirs. Robert Merton’s strain theory argues that deviance comes about when members within a society do not have equal ability to achieve socially accepted goals. The white children felt as if they’re equality was being threatened; that they’re neighborhoods were being invaded by minorities. They believed that other races were poisoning America because they were all criminals. Derek held true to this the most, because his father was murdered by an African American man in a bad neighborhood while he worked as a fireman. Derek called his father’s murder “typical.” His beliefs were that blacks, Hispanics, Jews, and Asians exploited America. He declares other races as “social parasites” and continues to elaborate on how crime, aids, welfare are problems in this country and they’re all solely problems to do with race. “These are not white problems,” he says. Derek refuses to see any other factor within these issues and focuses on race. He argues that minorities are not products of their environment; Europeans immigrated here and flourished, so why didn’t they? Although, Derek has some interesting points, there are many holes missing within his arguments. African Americans did not come to America with the same opportunities, but instead as slaves. They were oppressed for centuries and forced into poverty by white Americans. Also failing to see that street crime rises and falls with the economy, he blames this all on the amount of minorities that migrate to his home. His view was based on Venice Beach alone, because he only saw black people involved with gang related crime, and Hispanics taking American jobs for less wage. His entire outlook was based on location and the local issues at hand. Short sightedness, anger, and grief ruined his life. As discussed in class, race does play a role in incarceration rates. 16.6% of black men have served time, compared to 2.6% of white men. But on the other hand, black men have a higher unemployment rate than white men, and more black men receive their GEDs in prison than they graduate high school. This is a result of little access to resources for blacks. Within poverty stricken areas little money goes to schools. Unstable teachers, teaching methods, and lack of resources are the...
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