American Son (2019 film)

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American Son
American Son 2019 poster.jpg
Directed by
Produced by
  • Kenny Leon
  • Kristin Bernstein
  • Christopher Demos-Brown
Written by
  • Christopher Demos-Brown
Based onAmerican Son
by Christopher Demos-Brown
Music byLisbeth Scott
CinematographyKramer Morgenthau
Edited byMelissa Kent
Simpson Street
Distributed byNetflix
Release date
  • September 12, 2019 (2019-09-12) (Toronto Film Festival)[1]
  • November 1, 2019 (2019-11-01) (Netflix)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States

American Son is an American drama film directed by Kenny Leon and written by Christopher Demos-Brown, based on his Broadway play of the same name.[2][3] The film stars Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, Jeremy Jordan and Eugene Lee. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2019, and was released on Netflix on November 1, 2019.

The film received mixed reviews from critics, who found its message about race "heavy handed". However, it received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Television Movie.[4]


On a stormy night in a Miami police station, Kendra Ellis-Connor is waiting for a report on the whereabouts of her son Jamal, who has suddenly disappeared. She asks for help from Officer Paul Larkin, a rookie cop who is unable to tell her anything about the incident, due to both protocol and a lack of knowledge of the incident, telling her that he has to wait for Lieutenant John Stokes, the AM shift liaison officer. Soon, her estranged husband, FBI agent Scott Connor, arrives at the station and demands to know where Jamal is.

Larkin is able to tell Scott that Jamal and two other black men were pulled over by police but is unable to tell them anything further, other than the fact that Jamal's car had a provocative bumper sticker about violence against cops. This revelation devolves into a long argument between Kendra and Scott, where the two confront their tumultuous marriage and their experiences raising a biracial son in a privileged community. Kendra repeatedly brings up how Jamal feels depressed and isolated as one of the very few black men at his school (referring to himself as "the face of the race"), while Scott says that Jamal should have known better than to present himself like "a gangster."

Larkin returns and says that Jamal was with two black friends, one of whom has a warrant for misdemeanor drug possession. After this discovery, Kendra and Scott engage in a lengthy, contentious discussion about Jamal growing up in an environment of racial tension, specifically pertaining to Kendra's own experiences as a black woman and her fears of a possible confrontation between Jamal and police. Scott says that Jamal should not have been hanging out with these men in the first place, prompting Kendra to reveal that Jamal was angry at Scott for leaving him, which is why he placed the bumper sticker on his car. Scott then receives a video from his brother, which shows a recording of the traffic stop Jamal was involved in. In it, a police officer fires at a fleeing suspect as a bystander records it.

The video sends Scott over the edge, physically threatening Larkin to know where his son is. At this time, Lieutenant Stokes arrives and places Scott under arrest after Scott shoves him. After booking Scott, Stokes tells Kendra that three black males were taken into custody in connection with the traffic stop, unable to tell if one of them was Jamal. After Scott is released after being given a "promise to appear" court order, Kendra reveals that Jamal left the house after an argument with her.

Stokes is able to obtain a full report of the incident: Bell, Rolle, and Jamal were driving around in Liberty City, where Bell (who was driving the car) stopped to purchase a nickel bag of marijuana. Rodney Banks, a black police officer, witnessed the exchange and stopped the car. After both Bell and Rolle exited the vehicle to confront Banks, Bell fled after Banks had trained his gun on both men. Banks proceeded to fire three shots at Bell. One of the bullets (it is unknown if it was a stray shot or ricochet) accidentally hits Jamal in the head, which kills him instantly. Kendra and Scott are devastated, and Stokes gives them a moment, but they can only wail in agony. In the final scene, Scott exclaims "I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" in an apparent allusion to the killing of Eric Garner.



The film received negative reviews, citing its social commentary on the subject of race as being of a "heavy handed" nature. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 48% based on 25 reviews, and an average rating of 5.29/10.[5] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 33 out of 100, based on 6 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews."[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Television Movie Kerry Washington, Pilar Savone, Jeffrey Richards, Rebecca Gold, Kenny Leon and Kristin Bernstein Nominated [7]


  1. ^ "American Son". Toronto International Film Festival Inc. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  2. ^ Wilkinson, Alissa (November 1, 2019). "With American Son, Netflix brings Broadway to the screen in an intriguing new way". Vox. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  3. ^ Sharareh, Drury (October 31, 2019). "Kerry Washington on How 'American Son' Explores Motherhood, Race, Identity". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  4. ^ "2020 Primetime Emmy® Awards – Nomination Press Release" (PDF). Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. p. 36-37. Retrieved July 28, 2020.
  5. ^ "American Son". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  6. ^ "American Son 2019". Metacritic. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  7. ^ "2020 Primetime Emmy" (PDF) (Press release). Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. July 28, 2020. Retrieved August 2, 2020.

External links[edit]