American History X 1998 Movie Scene Edward Norton as Derek in white underwear and a swastika tattoo on his chest after he killed black robbers

American History X [1998]

American History X is one of the two best movies about skinheads and their subculture. The other one is, of course, the Australian masterpiece Romper Stomper, starring Russel Crowe. Two other notable entries in this subgenre are This is England and Made in Britain. It’s fascinating to notice that all these movies come from all these different countries and yet they feel eerily the same. The broken American family in this movie could’ve just been British or Australian and it wouldn’t affect the story. 

Starring Edward Norton, American History X features non-linear storytelling and compelling acting from almost all of the cast. It would be blasphemy to single out anyone because they were all great. You never get the feeling that the scene is off or something like that. This is above all a well-directed and written movie, dealing with extreme racism that has managed to infiltrate ordinary families. Still, Norton was a fucking force of nature here showing just how good of an actor he is.

Romper Stomper, released six years earlier, took a different approach, centering its story on a group of social outcasts who are living on the fringes of society. The most important thing about American History X is the fact that it’s not pandering. The movie doesn’t take moral sides and uses that disgusting preachy tone to discuss events that are unfolding. It trusts us, the viewers, to have the moral compass that determines whether an action is bad or good.

If your moral compass is currently in such a state that you find the racist parts of the movie “cool” and “empowering”, in a few years you might change your opinion. We all make mistakes, experiment and do things we would be ashamed of now. It’s important to not cross any lines and persevere in your quest for a better life. A better life for yourself first, something that’s hard to disagree with. And to know that you can change and become a better person.

Danny Vinyard is a problematic high school kid. After his teacher told him to write a paper on struggles for human rights, he decides that the book he will read and write on is Main Kampf, written by Adolf Hitler. Influenced by his older brother Derek, a member of a local skinhead gang, he wants to be like him, strong and respected. The principal of the school, Dr. Bob Sweeney who’s black by the way, decides to privately tutor Danny in a class that he calls American History X.

To tell you more about the story would be counterproductive, so just trust me on this one. Although since this is such a popular movie, I’m sure you’ve already heard about it. It is above all realistic and not preachy, so you will have a hard time finding an argument against it. I think that this movie single-handedly managed to curb the rise of skinhead movements all around the world by pointing out huge, gaping holes in their logic and purpose.

The subject of racism in America is still a controversial one. And it’s even more difficult to pin down because of its subtle and hidden nature. In other countries in the world, you can easily spot a racist or a skinhead. In America, not so much. Not unless you’re in a prison. The appeal of these skinhead groups is an obvious one. It goes back to our tribal roots giving young and insecure men a sense of purpose, direction, and masculinity.

You’re now a member of this new and powerful tribe. Everything is explained to you and everything makes sense. Moreover, you don’t have to think too much just be loyal and everything is going to work out. This is how they get you.

As you’re slowly starting to grow out of this phase you’ll start to realize you’re in a cult. A cult that’s exceedingly difficult to leave. However, I do not wish to bother too much with my dissection of this cult. I’m just here to recommend good movies to watch. And American History X is one of the best.

Director: Tony Kaye

Writer: David McKenna

Cast: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo, Ethan Suplee, Elliott Gould

Fun Facts: Edward Norton gained 30 pounds of muscle for his role.


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