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American History X Film Analysis

By paigenb11 Oct 30, 2012 1226 Words
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 outcomes and create a cycle of uneducated minorities stuck in poverty. Derek preaches statistics, but ignores the ones that argue against his beliefs. As he is with his family at the dinner table they start a discussion about Rodney King and riots within their city. Derek preaches his opinion about race related crime to his family for the first time. “1 in every 3 black males is in some sort of correctional system, is that a coincidence, or do these people have some racial commitment to crime?” He then continues to dismiss his sister’s retort about how he should look into prejudice in the judicial system and the social inequalities that produce them. Unlike Derek, his sister sees the entire picture of his so called “race” related problems. Eventually, Derek loses control of his anger and calls their guest a kike, reveals his Nazi tattoos, and crams food down his sister’s throat. A similar flashback within the film is shown because Danny, unlike others, believes Derek’s discrimination started earlier than his father’s death. This dinner is less violent than the last, but is important in figuring out where Derek got his rash way of thinking. Derek and Danny’s father speaks to Derek about how two black men got jobs over two white men. He continues to tell Derek the white men scored better on the test, and the black men only got the job because “America owed it to them.” This isn’t an uncommon belief in modern America. Many citizens think some people get their job, just based on the color of their skin. Sometimes this is true, but possibly, the employer realizes that diverse groups outperform. Different backgrounds are also what employers want. Different races, with different backgrounds, bring new and possibly more efficient ideas to the table. Derek Vinyard overcame his discrimination while he spent three years in prison. He met a black man who became his friend and protector. It took one powerful question addressed to him by Dr. Sweeney, to make him understand. “Has anything you’ve done made your life better?” Coming to the realization that his whole world was bullshit, he cried. When he gets released from prison, Derek decides to quit, and quit it all. He leaves behind his white supremacist lifestyle, to protect his family, and especially his little brother. Unfortunately, the lengths he may go to keep his family safe is cut short. Danny Vinyard was brutally murdered by a black male teenager from his school, carrying the essay he wrote about his older brother. “So I guess this where I tell you what I learned, my conclusion right? Well, my conclusion is hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it. Derek says it’s always good to end a paper with a quote, he says someone else has already said it best, so if you can’t top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you’d like, ‘We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’”

[ 1 ]. American History X

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