[b][size=200]American History X[/size]
American History X is a 1998 crime drama film directed by Tony Kaye and written by David McKenna. It stars Edward Norton in the lead role and co-stars Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Lien, Ethan Suplee, Fairuza Balk, Avery Brooks, Elliott Gould, Stacy Keach, and Guy Torry. Norton was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. As of June 2007, it is ranked 43rd on the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 with a rating of 8.5 out of 10.
Reformed neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard is released from prison after serving three years for killing two young black men he caught breaking into his car. Upon being released, he finds that his younger brother, Danny (the narrator), has embraced his old ways in his absence and has become an active white supremacist in the group Derek led before his arrest. The film centers on Derek’s decision to sever ties with his racist past whilst trying to keep his brother from following in his footsteps. The film also centers on events that lead him to change his views about other races.
This plot synopsis does not follow the non-linear storyline of the movie.
The film tells the story of Derek Vinyard, taking place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. An extremely bright and charismatic student, Derek is drawn into the neo-Nazi underground after his father, a firefighter, is shot and killed by a black drug dealer while fighting a fire in a crack house. Derek had already been influenced by his father’s views on black culture and affirmative action (his father refers to it as “affirmative blacktion”) and his outlook was so galvanized by the circumstances of the murder that he launched a racist tirade on a local TV station. Eventually Derek becomes second in command of the Venice Beach neo-Nazi gang, The Disciples of Christ (D.O.C.), which entices young whites to join by promising protection from predominantly minority gangs who are essentially in control of the area. He and Cameron Alexander, the leader of D.O.C., eventually regain control of the boardwalk, basketball court, and beach area, and maintain a large presence at the high school. Alexander uses Derek to recruit other members who have become frustrated at being attacked by gangs of different ethnicities.
The night before Derek would have had to leave the house (his mother gave him one day to pack his things and move out because a dinnertime discussion about then-current Rodney King incident and race relations escalated into violence against her Jewish date, Murray (Gould) and the rest of the family), three black men park in front of the Vinyard house and break into Derek’s car. His younger brother, Danny, hears them and informs Derek, telling him that “a black guy” was jacking his car. Derek becomes infuriated and seizes a pistol from a nightstand drawer and puts on a pair of steel toed combat boots. Derek shoots one of the men, killing him, and wounds a second. The third escapes in their car. Derek kills the wounded man by stomping on the back of his head (known as a curbstomping), breaking his neck. Danny watches in horror and witnesses his brother’s arrest.
Derek is sentenced to three years in prison, charged with voluntary manslaughter (Danny notes, but deletes, that if he had testified, Derek would have gotten life in prison). In prison, he joins a Neo-Nazi prison gang, for protection. His strong belief system, and his distrust of the “politics” and “favors” in the group, soon alienates some of the others, leading to his rape and beating by his own “allies.”
During his prison stay, Derek makes the acquaintance of a black inmate named Lamont (Guy Torry), with whom he works in the prison laundry room. After the rape, he sees that Lamont is his only friend and abandons the gang. Just before Derek is released on parole, largely due to his former Honors English teacher Dr. Sweeney’s (Brooks) vouching for him, he realizes that only through Lamont’s intervention did the black prison gangs leave him unharmed.
Derek returns home to find that his little brother Danny had followed in his neo-Nazi footsteps. In addition to associating with the D.O.C., Danny had written a paper arguing for Hitler as a civil rights hero; Murray, his teacher for that class, wanted to expel him, but now-principal Dr. Sweeney felt it would be better to make him write a new paper on the last few years of Derek’s life than to turn him loose to the dangers of the streets. Danny reluctantly converts from his old ways after Derek advises about these events and how to write about them. The next morning, Danny walks into his high school bathroom with the new paper, and is fatally shot several times in the chest. The gunman, a black youth, was previously involved in an altercation with Danny, when Danny stood up for a young white male being harassed by the black youth.
American History X touches on several controversial topics, such as: racism, affirmative action, illegal immigration, the continued existence of Neo-Nazi hate groups and the reasons these groups are formed within American society, the exploitation of vulnerable youth of all races by gangs, intra- and inter-racial violence, and other topics that still split American society to this day.
The main controversy over the film centered on director Tony Kaye’s attempts to remove his name from the credits, preferring to use the pseudonym Alan Smithee. When this was refused he chose “Humpty Dumpty” as an alternative pseudonym, which in turn was also rejected. Kaye alleged that his reasoning for this was Edward Norton’s re-editing of the film to give himself more screen time. The Director’s Guild of America ultimately denied Kaye the right to remove his name from the production, reasoning that Kaye had placed ads in Variety attacking the film, thus violating Guild rules regarding the right to invoke the pseudonym. Kaye proceeded to sue the Directors Guild and New Line Cinema, claiming they had violated his First Amendment rights. This could be the main reason as to why there is no commentary track for the film.[/b]