Source: Entertainment Weekly November 13, 1998
American History X is a profound and stirring drama about the consequences of urban racism as a family is torn apart by hate. A graphic examination of extremism in America, the film follows one man's struggle to reform himself and save his brother after living a life consumed by violence and bigotry.The following are production notes
While American History X was made with a no-holds-barred look at the very real underbelly of racism, this is not a film about skinheads or white power. This is a searing contemporary tragedy that grips one working-class family. Screenwriter David McKenna grew up on the periphery of the burgeoning and sometimes violent punk-rock scene. He was privy to the narrow-minded behavior that inspired him to write .
"I saw a lot of bigotry growing up, and it made me think about writing something about the world of hate-mongers. The point I tried to make in the script is that a person is not born a racist. It is learned through environment and the people that surround you," says McKenna. "The question that intrigued me is: why do people hate and how does one go about changing that? My premise was that hate starts in the family." McKenna interviewed a number of "skinheads" and spent a great deal of time observing them in action. "I had seen documentaries that just didn't ring true to me, and I wanted to write an accurate portrayal of how good kids from good families can get so terribly lost."
"I wanted the characters to be as real as possible, not the shallow, stereotypical backwoods idiots we've all seen. I was tired of seeing protagonists that looked and sounded so stupid. While the notion of family is central to the story, American History X chronicles the rise and fall of a leader; a revered, larger-than-life icon who must confront the fact that he has unwittingly lured his impressionable younger brother into a dangerous underground war." Producer John Morrissey first read the script more than 3 years ago. He was startled and captivated by the vivid characters and the powerful dialogue. "There's never been a secret to recognizing a terrific script because when you read it, you can't stop turning the pages," notes Morrissey. "More than anything else, I responded to the fundamental subject matter of racism and how it destroys individuals, families and communities, and by extension entire societies."
When the screenplay was brought to the attention of New Line Productions President Michael De Luca, he immediately embraced the project as a societal siren - a provocative story with a distinctive voice and a disturbing message. "This was one of those rare scripts that struck a raw nerve," De Luca said. "I was intrigued by its intensity, conviction and brutal honesty. There was a brilliant character study woven into the screenplay, and I knew we had something special if we did it correctly. Now that the film is in the can, it's everything I had hoped for. The performances are explosive and frightening, and the film dramatically demonstrates both the subtle and overt roots of racism while also showing the possibility for redemption."
Because of the profound power of the
film, Amnesty International USA plans to use American History X as an educational
tool in the months to come. The world's leading human rights organization will embark on
an extensive screening program at colleges and AIUSA functions nationwide. At its core,
this film shows the possibility of change. Says Morrissey, "It's not preachy and that's
the beauty of American History X. These characters are tragically flawed, and you
begin to feel sympathy for their fall into ignorance and hatred."
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