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American History X 1998 English Crime Movie Review

American History X

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High school student Danny Vinyard antagonizes his Jewish history teacher Murray by choosing to write a civil rights essay on Mein Kampf. African-American principal and outreach worker Dr. Bob Sweeney tells Danny that he will study history through current events or be expelled, calling their class American History X. Danny’s first assignment is a paper on his older brother Derek, a past student of Sweeney’s and former neo-Nazi leader released from prison that day. In the school bathroom, Danny finds three African-American students bullying a white student; he disrespects the leader by blowing cigarette smoke in his face. Meanwhile, Dr. Sweeney meets with police officers being briefed on Derek’s release.

Years earlier, Danny and Derek’s father, a fireman, was shot and killed by African-American drug dealers while putting out a fire at their home. Immediately after his death, Derek erupts in a racist tirade in a televised interview. High-profile racist Cameron Alexander becomes Derek’s mentor and they form their own violent white supremacist gang called the Disciples of Christ (D.O.C.) in Venice Beach. A skilled basketball player, Derek is dragged into a game against several Crips, winning control of the local courts. Derek organizes an attack on a supermarket employing illegal Mexican immigrants.

Derek’s mother Doris invites Murray, her boyfriend, for dinner where an argument about Rodney King and the 1992 Los Angeles riots occurs. Derek assaults his sister Davina, and Doris tells Derek to leave home. That night, the same group of Crips that Derek had beaten in the basketball game earlier attempt to steal his truck. Derek shoots and kills one of them and curb stomps another. He is sentenced to three years in the California Institution for Men for voluntary manslaughter

In prison, Derek joins the Aryan Brotherhood and befriends an African-American inmate named Lamont. Derek becomes disillusioned by prison gang politics; he believes in the ideology, but disapproves of his gang’s dealings with non-white gangs and believes they only use the philosophy of white supremacy out of convenience. He abandons the Aryan Brotherhood, who beat and rape him in the shower. Derek is visited in the hospital wing by Sweeney, with whom he pleads for help to get out of prison. Sweeney warns that Danny has become involved with the D.O.C. Derek ignores the Aryan Brotherhood, and Lamont warns that he may be targeted by African-American gangs. An attack never comes, and Derek spends the remainder of his sentence alone.

Returning home, Derek finds Danny emulating him, sporting a D.O.C. tattoo and becoming a skinhead. Derek tries to persuade him to leave the gang, but Danny feels betrayed. Derek’s best friend Seth, also a D.O.C. member, frequently disrespects Derek’s mother and sister, while grooming Danny for the gang; Seth and Danny are closely controlled by Cameron. At a neo-Nazi party, Derek confronts Cameron for his manipulative behavior. When Cameron gloats that Danny has come under his influence and will prefer him over Derek, Derek assaults him; Seth and the others, including Derek’s ex-girlfriend Stacey, turn against Derek. Seth holds Derek at gunpoint, but Derek disarms him and flees.

Afterwards, Derek tells Danny about his experience in prison, which seems to prompt a change in Danny. The pair return home and remove hateful posters from their shared bedroom. The next morning, Danny completes his paper, reflecting on his reasons for adopting white supremacist values, and their flaws. He says that although Derek’s racist views may seem to have arisen from anger over his father’s death, Danny believes that his brother’s views came much earlier; he remembers one instance when his father went on a rant against affirmative action and referred to Dr. Sweeney’s teachings as “nigger bullshit”, and his death misdirected Derek’s anger into racism. Derek walks Danny to school, stopping at a diner for breakfast. Sweeney and a police officer inform Derek that Seth and Cameron are in an intensive care unit. Derek denies having any knowledge or involvement and reluctantly agrees to inspect the people he denounced. At school, Danny is shot dead by an African-American student from the previous day’s incident. Derek runs to the school and cradles Danny’s body, blaming himself for influencing Danny’s views. In a voiceover, Danny reads the final lines of his paper for Dr. Sweeney, quoting the final stanza of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address.

[Source: Wikipedia]