American Son is Netflix’s feature-film adaptation of the Broadway stage play of the same name that ran for sixteen weeks beginning in October 2018. The film and the play were both directed by Kenny Leon and feature the same cast of four characters: Kendra Ellis-Connor (Kerry Washington), Scott Connor (Steven Pasquale), Officer Larkin (Jeremy Jordan), and Officer Stokes (Eugene Lee). Kendra and Scott’s son Jamal, a character who is never seen on screen, has been missing for the past eight hours. Jamal left the previous evening and never came home. Now, Kendra and Scott wait in the waiting room of a Miami police station at 4:00 a.m. as they try to get answers about where their son is.
While Officer Larkin, who is a junior officer and new to the job, is off searching for answers, Kendra and Scott, who are recently separated, argue and shout about everything from their son’s disappearance to speaking proper English to their marriage, often citing racism and sexism as the cause of the problem. Kendra is black and Scott is white—their biracial son was raised mostly as a privileged white kid, going to private school with only three other black kids in the school and having been given a wealth of opportunities. Now, Jamal is eighteen and has taken to wearing baggy pants and his hair in cornrows, which greatly upsets Scott. However, in the midst of Kendra and Scott’s intense arguing, which is most of the dialogue in the film, important themes about Black Lives Matter, racism, gun violence, and cops are brought to light. The issues are thoroughly discussed among the characters and the film leaves audiences to ponder the social climate we live in ourselves.
This movie watches as more of a play than a movie. Other than the occasional flashback and one brief moment down the hallway, the entire film takes place in the police station waiting room. It is also dialogue focused and the dialogue is very polished, rather than the more plain-spoken English we tend to see in most movies. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different. In a pre-screening talk with director Kenny Leon, he said that the whole film was filmed in four-and-a-half days immediately following the Broadway run because that was the only time Kerry Washington was available and the entire show hinges on her performance. Leon also told the audience to view it from a mother’s perspective. Washington gave a great performance and you really understood her love, fears, anxieties, and grief as both a mother and a black woman.