30th of October 1998 marks the release of Tony Kaye’s ‘American History X’. Edward Norton is Derek Vinyard, a neo-Nazi who goes to jail for the murder of two African-Americans. The movie follows the timeline of Derek into neo-Nazism. Starting from forming a gang with white supremacists in Los Angeles to his arrest and rehabilitation in prison. Those who have watched the film will remember the key dramatic points. The prison rape, the curb stomp scene and of course the dramatic finale.
The film’s points feel exaggerated and fantastical, but the main message of the film exists in its less violent moments. What makes the movie great is not the mentioned violent scenes, but the points of the white supremacists and those who oppose them. All these are accurate and similar to what is happening in major countries today. Police brutality, excessive violence, hate for immigrants and Jews, or “liberal media”. All these are just players to a never ending argument and subject to contemporary 90s rhetoric. However, we can agree that the core themes are now more relevant than ever.
As we watch the film and the main ideas unfold, we feel like the creators assumed that things will change and that the world will move on, making American History X a chapter of American history. It is clear today that racism and hatred are not a part of American history, but a hallmark. Around the release of the film, the most relevant case was that of James Byrd Jr., an African-American dragged behind a truck by three white supremacists, which led to his death. It was only a decade later that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed.
The list of hate crimes has only continued to grow excessively since then. The last years, we read too many headlines and it is hard to remember a single case, which makes American History X a warning rather than a relic. Michael O’ Sullivan wrote on The Washington Post in 1988: “At its most forceful when it is not being heavy-handed or preachy, the blunt and brutal American History X is ultimately only as imperfect as we ourselves are.”
Those imperfections O’Sullivan mentions, have become even worse the last years. It seems that, American History X hasn’t found its way to the shelf of time. We are horrified to know what will happen if it doesn’t.
And below you will find the IMDB link of the movie for more information about the movie and its cast: