(detailed information about this entry from Wikipedia)
American History X is a 1998 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, and Stacy Keach. Norton was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.
When reformed neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard is released from prison after three years for the cold-blooded, hate-fueled murder of two black gang members trying to steal his car, he finds that his brother has embraced Derek's ways in his absence and has become an active white supremacist in the same group Derek led. The film centers on Derek's struggle to sever ties with his racist past but keep his family together, intercut with scenes from Derek's life showing how he got to the point he is now.
The title of American History X is derived from the name of a class Danny (Furlong) is forced to take after writing a controversial essay on Adolf Hitler's autobiography, Mein Kampf. When his Jewish teacher (Gould) becomes outraged, he bursts into Principal Sweeney's (Brooks) office and complains. Danny is called into the office and is told that he must write about his brother, Derek Vinyard's, life and have it on his desk the next morning or face immediate expulsion. The class is entitled American History X. Danny continually complains that his neo-Nazi ways have nothing to do with his older brother, but Dr. Sweeney rebukes him and sends him on his way.
This film tells the story of Derek Vinyard. An extremely bright and charismatic student, Derek is drawn into the neo-Nazi underground after his father, a Los Angeles firefighter, is shot and killed by a black gang member while trying to put out a meth lab fire. Derek concludes that blacks are poverty stricken for a reason, and that they are holding back the "supreme" white race and killing each other off due to what he came to believe was an innate unintelligence and lack of forethought. He becomes second in command of the Venice Beach neo-Nazi gang, The Disciples of Christ, which entices young whites to join by promising protection from predominantly Mexican and black gangs who are essentially in control of the area. He and Cameron, the number one D.O.C., eventually regain control of the boardwalk, basketball court and beach area, and maintain a large presence at the high school. The D.O.C. becomes a symbolic gang in Venice Beach.
One night while Derek is having sex with his girlfriend, three Crips park in front of his house and one breaks into his Ford Bronco. His younger brother, Danny, hears the glass smash and notifies Derek, telling him that "a black guy" was breaking into his truck. Dressed in nothing but a white pair of boxers, Derek becomes infuriated and seizes a Glock pistol from a nightstand drawer and puts on a pair of steel toed combat boots. Sneaking downstairs and kicking open the front door, he proceeds to shoot a man standing guard with a gun at his door, killing him. He then shoots the carjacker twice in the stomach, severely wounding him. The getaway driver begins speeding away. Derek fires at the back of the car and empties his magazine without accomplishment. Realizing that no more rounds are left, Derek turns on the wounded carjacker.
Derek grabs him by his jacket and drags him over to the curb and begins a loud, profanity-laden rant about the primitive nature of blacks. He recognizes the carjacker, Lawrence, as the leader of a black gang which he personally kicked off the basketball court by scoring the game-winning point with a slam dunk in a street basketball game on which they had both bet control of the courts for their respective gangs. Derek yells that he will teach Lawrence "a real lesson", puts his gun to Lawrence's head, and tells him to put his "mouth on the curb". Terrified and completely aware of Derek's intentions, Lawrence reluctantly obeys. Then, as Danny watches from the front door, Derek curb stomps Lawrence, killing him, and spits on his body. Police cruisers then soon swerve around the corner, and Derek, respecting both white officers, is arrested without hassle.
Derek is later sentenced to three years in prison, charged with voluntary manslaughter.
In prison, which Derek finds to his expectation predominately black, he decides to join a group for protection. One day during the exercise period in the prison courtyard, he removes his shirt, revealing a massive, black swastika on his left pectoral. He shows off his impressive bench press to a group of men who are members of one of the prison's Aryan Brotherhood gang, and the next day at lunch they invite him over to discuss possible membership.
He flourishes in the gang for a while, but his strong belief system soon alienates some of the others; he witnesses one of the lead members perform a drug trade with a Mexican gang member, and later openly critizes him for doing so. After witnessing this again, he stops to talk to the gang and sits alone in the cafeteria. When they see him leaving the gang, they jump him in the shower and brutally rape him.
Before the rape, Derek had befriended a black man named Lamont (Torry), with whom he works in the prison laundry room. Derek was reluctant to put his beliefs aside, but when he realizes the hypocrisy of the prison whites, he opens up. Then after the rape, he realizes that Lamont is his only friend and abandons the gang. When Derek is released on parole, he realizes that only Lamont's intervention kept the black gangs away from Derek.
Once his stint is over, Derek returns home only to find that his little brother Danny had followed in his hardline, neo-Nazi footsteps. He tries for the rest of the movie to lead Danny away from this path, which Derek has since abandoned after his brutal treatment at the hands of men he believed were above such behavior and multiple talk therapy sessions with Dr. Sweeney.
As Derek tries to help his family, in part by using his macho attitude, his old gang wants him back. As he visits his coming home party, a fight ensue as he tells them he wants out and he wants Danny out.
Danny eventually but reluctantly converts from his old ways after Derek tells him of his prison stint and how when the whites turned on him and a black man saved his life. Danny denounces his former lifestyle and beliefs, and the two walk home with a new relationship.
The day before, however, Danny had witnessed a white geek being beaten up for snitching in the men's bathroom by trio of black gang members. Danny blew cigarette smoke in their leader's face. While they were acting as if they would assault Danny, the bell had rung and the group left. The next morning, Danny walks into the bathroom, with his American History X report in hand, to urinate. The scene changes back and forth between Derek walking down the street as a Cadillac pulls up behind him and Danny in the bathroom, with the implication that the Cadillac is about to threaten Derek's life. But the car passes and Derek looks back at the school. When Danny zips up his pants and turns around to wash his hands, the black gang leader is standing behind him. He raises a Beretta and shoots Danny point-blank in the sternum, splattering blood all over the wall behind him. He shoots Danny twice more in the chest before leaving.
Derek bursts into the school lobby, shoving police officers, crowds of crying teenagers and Dr. Sweeney aside as he sprints into the men's bathroom, but stops as he sees Danny lying at the bottom of the urinal, lifeless and drenched in blood. Derek picks up his young brother and cradles him in his arms, weeping uncontrollably and shouting "No!" over and over. The film then ends with the closing paragraphs of Danny's American History X report narrated by Danny himself, with his conclusion that "hate is baggage" and "life's too short to be pissed off all the time."
American History X touches on such controversial topics as racism, affirmative action, illegal immigration, the continued existence of Neo-Nazi hate groups 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.
The main controversy over the film centered on director Tony Kaye's attempts to try to remove his name from the credits, preferring instead to invoke the pseudonym Alan Smithee. Kaye alleged that his reasoning for this was Edward Norton's re-editing of the film to allegedly 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.
Additionally, the film, along with other films with ostensibly anti-racist overtones such as Romper Stomper, have a large following and popularity within the neo-nazi movement. Many feel that such movies glorify racist violence, despite the opposite intent of the filmmakers. This is because, despite the decided slant of many of them, the films often unrealistically portray neo-Nazis as having exciting, action-oriented lives wherein they stomp around scaring, hurting and killing people indiscriminately in typical cinematographic action-sequence style. This is something which, it is feared, may attract impressionable, disaffected youths; though as stated above, many others revel in this possibility, adopting something of a "come for the action, stay for the politics" way of taking advantage of these situations.
The film also, although most likely not purposely, portrays all skinheads as white supremacists.
- An original scripted, but unfilmed, ending consisted of Derek shaving his head and reverting back to his neo-nazi skinhead ways after the death of his brother.
- The word "fuck" is spoken 205 times throughout the film.
- The quote Danny says at the end of the film is from Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Address in 1861.
- Edward Norton's penis is exposed in a prison shower scene.
- Edward Norton packed on 30 pounds (13.61 kilograms) of muscle for the role.
- Both Avery Brooks (Dr. Sweeny) and Jennifer Lien (Devina) starred on Star Trek series at the same time. (Brooks on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from 1993 until 1999 as Captain Benjamin Sisko and Lien on Star Trek: Voyager from 1995 until 1997 as Kes.)
- A white power song is heard that is set to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic; the song describes a massacre of non-Whites and Jews, referring to it as "the tramplin' at the Zoo". It is an actual song by Johnny Rebel, which was written for comedic effect by utilising black humour in a context which neo-Nazis would find humorous (namely in a "doing what we're all thinking but wouldn't actually do" sort of way).
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