A movie American History X (1988) deals with white supremacy and racism. We can see a variety of racial representation in this movie. We're now going to see implicit racial associations and racist stereotypes seen in this film first with the framework of John Russell's discussion in his research "Race as Ricorso: Blackface(s), Racial Representation, and the Transnational Apologetics of Historical Amnesia in the United States and Japan," examine the background and arguments on race in the movie, and finally see the editorial point of view of the film maker.
There are so many symbols that representing race in American History X. Two young white brothers are featured in the story. The older brother Derek had been a white supremacist. He killed two black youths and had been in prison for three years for voluntary manslaughter. He has many icons of white supremacy on his look including skinhead and swastika tattoo on his chest. However, after he gets out of the prison, he has his mild hair-style and does not shows his tattoo to other people any more (he only sees it in the mirror after taking a shower, which reminds him of his old regretful past). His younger brother Danny has been inspired greatly by Derek and now becomes a member of a white supremacist group. He also shaves his head and has a collection of Nazi posters in his room. Their looks show a typical young white supremacist today. While in prison, Derek changed his racist ideology. Not only because he was raped brutally by one of his white inmates, but also because he saw the reality of racial conflicts and disillusioned.
the Los Angeles Riot occurred in 1992. This racial-motivated event has huge impacts on Derek and Danny since the Riot is exemplified by Derek to support his claim to justify the beating of Rodney King. A hard dispute over racism is carried out at the dinner table at Derek's house with their mother Doris's Jewish boyfriend Murray (who is a Danny's school teacher) and Derek's girlfriend Stacey. Here Doris and Murray talk about the Rodney King incident from relatively a liberal point of views, whereas Derek criticizes Rodney with harshly racial words. In the end, Derek shows his hostility to Murray by showing his swastika tattoo.
Another interesting aspect of this movie is that it also shows racial discriminatory views of working-class American people. For example, Derek and Danny's father Dennis, who was a firefighter shot and killed while fighting a fire, talks about affirmative action critically to Derek. He probably does not call himself a white supremacist, but criticizes the racially "unfair" system. He uses hateful words such as "affirmative blacksion," "niggers," and "shit," which clearly show his racial discrimination against blacks. It shows that these prejudiced notions may easily be passed down to the next generation in an ordinary working-class family. Another racial episode that is likely to happen in Los Angeles is that attacking a glossary store owned by a Korean. The main reason why Derek attacks the store with his racial-group members is that the owner hires non-white employees. The movie reflects the political and social situations in the 1990s in Los Angeles on their life-style basis. For Derek and Danny, their enemies are real. The enemies are the people whom they see every day in their lives such as their neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and shop owners. The brothers hate them because they are non-white. On the other hand, Adolf Hitler and Nazis ideology seems to play a relatively small in their lives. Swastika and other Nazism icons seem to attract them only as a fashion, not as philosophy. They don't look like Nazism ideologues at all (Both brothers do not use particular racial words such as "Aryans." Derek uses the word "Jewish" only once while disputing with his mother's Jewish boyfriend). There is no description of them praising Hitler or his ideology in the film. That is probably why Danny can change his mind and throw away all the Nazism posters and stickers immediately at the end of the film.
The message of American History X is very clear. White supremacist ideology is not focused much in this film. Instead, hatred and violence seem to be put more emphasized as the reasons and causes of racism. For example, Dr. Sweeny asks Derek in prison, "Has anything you've done made your life better?" Derek actually changes his mind with this question. At the end of the film, Danny writes as a conclusion of his essay assigned by Dr. Sweeny saying that "Hate is baggage. It's not worth it." Both examples point out that the brothers' problems are not on race, but on hatred. What they have to do now is to see themselves objectively and find out whether the hatred has its own legitimate basis. Although rest of the characters are distinctly divided into good and bad guys and described stereotypically with racial symbols, it successfully shows how a circle of hate violence continues.
However, there is criticism that the movie sends the wrong message that hate crimes are committed by people who shave their heads and wear swastikas, and if a viewer knows that he does not do this, he can rest assured that he is not a racist (Finley, 2003, p.82). This is probably because the story relies more on the racial stereotypes, whereas a similar movie such as Crash uses the racial stereotypes in ordinary people more efficiently to show the conflicts between them so that they are more likely to happen in their real life. Overall, the movie shows how racial hatred is reproduced over generations very well.