“Zero to ghetto in nothing flat!” is how the white police officer describes Emmy-nominated Kerry Washington’s character, panicked mum Kendra Ellis-Connor in the opening moments of the Netflix drama, American Son.
It’s clear that we need to check our sensibilities at the door with this one. Based on the acclaimed Broadway play, American Son tells the story of psychology professor Kendra Ellis-Connor, as the mother of a missing teenage boy, who is desperately trying to put together the pieces of his actions leading up to his absence and where he could be. The whole film is set in the waiting room of a South Florida police station and it is testament to the brilliant acting and script that the viewer is held captivated and attention never wavers throughout the length of the film.
Kerry’s frantic and urgent, yet articulate mum was compelling. She captured the essence of the fear and underlying worry that mothers of Black boys will recognise from the moment they are born. No matter how educated or what fancy part of town they may live in, is it ever enough to protect them from being seen as a threat and to elicit irrational trigger-happy responses?
American Son centres around the inexcusable killings of Black men at the hands of white police officers who often get off free and without consequence.
Kerry’s frantic and urgent, yet articulate mum was compelling. She captured the essence of the fear and underlying worry that mothers of Black boys will recognise from the moment they are born.
The original Broadway play reportedly presents the distinct viewpoints of Kendra’s husband, white FBI agent Scott Ellis played by Steven Pasquale, white police officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) and senior Lieutenant John Stokes, played by Eugene Lee, who all reprised their roles in the Netflix drama.
Watching the film as a Black mother of boys, my viewpoint largely mirrored Kendra’s but a standout scene where Eugene Lee’s character, also a Black man, spoke a few home truths, skilfully showed that nothing in life is one dimensional.
Another interesting dynamic is how interracial couple, Kendra and Scott, whose broken-down relationship, and hugely differing backgrounds and upbringings add complications to the way they raise their mixed-race son.
At times, the quick-fire dialogue gets a little heavy-handed, seemingly intent on piling in all of the elements of the “Black Lives Matter” themes, but watching, as a British Nigerian Black woman, I was still nodding along.
American Son is by no means an easy watch. Long after the film ended, a heavy sadness weighed me down at the film’s conclusion, but it is definitely one for your watchlist.
Excellent acting, especially from Kerry, and a topical storyline makes this a must-watch.