Movie Analysis: American History X
Dianna N. Nguyen
California State University, San Marcos
The film, “American History X” tells the story of two brothers who are involved with the neo-Nazi movement. After their father is murdered by black drug dealers, the older brother, Derek develops an extreme hatred for minorities and becomes a violent white supremacist leader for a gang called the D.O.C. Derek brutally murders two gang members who tried to steal his truck and eventually receives a three year prison sentence. After leaving prison, Derek’s prejudiced views have changed and he ends all connections with his supremacist gang. He is determined to stop his younger brother, Danny from following the same path he did. The film exhibits the drastic changes that these two individuals go through that alter their beliefs both morally and ethically. Erikson’s Psychosocial Development
Both brothers experience an intense transformation in character development throughout the film that is impacted by the individuals surrounded by them. They transform from being regular American teenagers to modern day neo-Nazis. Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development can be used to explain the changes in Derek and Danny’s character. According to the textbook, Derek is in the fifth stage of Erikson’s Psychosocial Development, Identity vs. Role Confusion is described as needing to develop a sense of self and a personal identity. Erikson suggested that adolescence has a crucial effect on an individual’s identity development. At this time in life, adolescents want to become independent from their parents and develop their own beliefs based on their explorations. It is essential for the adolescent to question and challenge their parent’s rules and behaviors in order to increase their autonomy. Failure to successfully finish any of the Psychosocial Development stages may negatively impact the adolescent’s development (Rathus, 2014). In regards to identity crisis, an adolescent may explore different aspects in life including political, career, and religion. Erikson suggested that parents should support their child’s explorations and beliefs. Pressuring an individual to become a certain identity creates a negative identity that usually results in unhappiness. An example of Erikson’s theory of peer pressure within the film occurs during a flashback of the family eating dinner. Their father is angered when Derek shows excitement and admiration for his African-American history teacher, Dr. Sweeney. His father reveals his “true colors” and racist beliefs, calling Sweeney’s views as “nigger bullshit” which appears to surprise both Derek and Danny. Although Derek does not agree with his father, he nods and tells him that he understands what he means. His father rewards him by saying “good boy.” It is evident that the boys did not have any negative or racist beliefs about blacks prior to this moment. Derek’s enthusiasm on learning about Black literature is completely disregarded by his father. His attempt to have individual thoughts and beliefs about the world was seen as silly and wrong. Therefore, he felt obligated to adapt to his father’s racist views, causing his moral and ethical views begin to transform (Rathus, 2014). Derek is shocked and infuriated about his father’s death and seeks revenge on minorities by joining a white supremacy gang led by a man named Cameron Alexander. Another example of peer pressure and influence is portrayed through Cameron and Derek. Cameron manipulates and brain washes many young men, one of them being Derek. Cameron sees Derek as a swaying spokesperson for the movement and uses him to recruit followers. Derek is taught how to influence and control a group of frustrated young people who do not have an identity in society and gives them the stamp of approval that they long desire. Erikson believed that fitting in and being a part of a peer group give...
References: Rathus, S.A. (2014). Hdev 3(3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
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