American History X Review Essay Outline

Movie Analysis: American History X

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The movie I decided to analyze for this course was American History X (1998), which stars Edward Norton. Though this movie isn’t widely known, it is one of the more interesting movies I have seen. It’s probably one of the best films that depict the Neo Nazi plague on American culture. The film takes place from the mid to late 1990’s during the Internet boom, and touches on subjects from affirmative action to Rodney King. One of the highlights of this movie that really relates to one of the key aspects of this course is the deterrence of capital punishment. Edward Norton’s portrayal as the grief stricken older brother who turns to racist ideologies and violence to cope with his fathers death, completely disregards the consequences of his…show more content…

Even when Derek’s car was stolen, one may imply that he seemed to be more irate that a group of African Americans were committing the crime rather than just losing his car. Even though most of them got away with his car, he still took out all of his hateful rage for African Americans on the last thief that was left behind. His blind hatred for everyone who wasn’t a white Christian American made him oblivious to the carnage he undertook by himself or with his gang throughout the movie. I’ve watched numerous documentaries on gangs, such as the Ayran Brotherhood, and see many similarities between this fictional white supremacist gang represented in the movie. For example, a similarity I noticed is that these white supremacists not only promotes ridiculous propaganda to support their cause, but some also are surprisingly unapologetic for heinous crimes they committed against others. Denial and ignorance have taken hold of them so tightly (both in real life and shown in the movie) that their reasoning and justification for their mentalities and actions are just beyond disgraceful, while someone on top running the gang is manipulating their crooked minds further purely for their own benefits. Even though eventually Derek reformed in prison, he was far from being remorseful of the crimes he committed as well as his racial

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  • Derek Vineyard is paroled after serving 3 years in prison for brutally killing two black men who tried to break into/steal his truck. Through his brother, Danny Vineyard's narration, we learn that before going to prison, Derek was a skinhead and the leader of a violent white supremacist gang that committed acts of racial crime throughout L.A. and his actions greatly influenced Danny. Reformed and fresh out of prison, Derek severs contact with the gang and becomes determined to keep Danny from going down the same violent path as he did.

    —Nitesh D.(

  • Edward Norton plays, Derek Vineyard, an ex neo-nazi ex-con that was a real product of his subtle upbringing and environment. When he gets out of jail he tries to convince his little brother (who he actually introduced to the same hateful life) that he can make better choices.

  • Derek Vinyard returns from prison to find his younger brother, Danny, caught in the same web of racism and hatred that landed him in prison. After Derek's father is killed in the line of duty by a minority, Derek's view of mankind is altered, but while in prison, he discovers that there is good and bad in every race. The task before him now is to convince Danny of his newfound enlightenment.


  • A brutal Neo Nazi skinhead named Derek Vinyard is tried and sent to prison for three years for the murder of two black guys who tried to steal his truck. When he returns from prison reformed, his younger brother Daniel Vinyard who idolizes him is on the brink of becoming a Neo Nazi himself. Derek must save his younger brother from a similar fate.


  • A former neo-nazi skinhead tries to prevent his younger brother from going down the same wrong path that he did.

  • The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


    • In the opening scene, we see waves crashing over a beach which eventually changes to a car driving by various stores. We next see a young teen boy Danny (Edward Furlong) trying to sleep but can't due to his older brother Derek (Edward Norton) and his girlfriend Stacey (Fairuza Balk) having loud sex in the next bedroom. A car drives by with three black men inside. The car stops outside Danny and Derek's house. It then shows Derek is caressing Stacy's naked body, Danny is then slowing turning in his sleep. The three black men slowly get out of their car. One goes over to Derek's truck and the other by his house. The one black man then smashes Derek's truck window awaking Danny. Derek and Stacey are then seen in yet another sexual position, her moaning becoming faster. Danny slowly gets up and peers out from his bedroom window. He sees the man that broke Derek's truck window inside looking around. This startles Danny so he runs into his brother's room to find Stacey riding Derek in the cowgirl position. Danny tells Derek what he witnessed but this startles Stacey and Derek. Derek asks Danny how long the man has been there and if he is strapped, Danny says that he doesn't know. Derek takes a pistol out of a nightstand drawer. He then goes down to the middle of the stairs with Danny following him. Derek tells Danny to stay put. Derek then goes to the door and peers out of the peephole. He then kicks the door in and shoots the one black man twice. The man falls down. The other black man makes a run for it but Derek fires three shots from his gun hitting the man with two of them. The other is uninjured and takes off in Derek's truck. Derek fires multiple shots at the truck breaking the back window. Danny looks down and sees the black man injured from the gunshot wounds. Derek then stars to angrily walk toward him, his arm raised as if to gun whip him.

      In present time, we see Danny is now sitting in the principal's office, waiting to be summoned. As we move into the office, we hear and see Danny's history teacher, Mr. Murray (Elliot Gould), explaining to the principal, Dr. Robert Sweeney (Avery Brooks), that Danny wrote a book report on Mein Kampf, Hitler's autobiography that details his anti-Semitic beliefs. Murray tells Dr. Sweeney that he is offended by Danny's gesture and he wants to see him punished. Instead, Sweeney asks Murray to leave and asks Danny to step in. With an American flag toothpick hanging from his mouth, Danny steps into the office and sits down. Dr. Sweeney begins yelling at Danny, telling him that writing what he did is offensive and he only did it because his brother influenced him in that way. Danny argues of course but in the end Sweeney wins and tells him that he is now his new history teacher. The class is called "American History X" and the next assignment is due tomorrow morning; a paper on his brother, Derek (Edward Norton), who is currently incarcerated. The next scene opens in the school bathroom with three black boys beating up a white boy for telling the teacher that one of them cheated. Suddenly, Danny appears out of one of the stalls and demands that they stop. One boy, Henry, argues with him but Danny simply blows the smoke from his cigarette into his face. The boys leave, Danny helps the white kid from the ground and tells him that he needs to learn to stand up for himself and they leave. Soon we see Danny walking home from school through a park where some black men are playing basketball; one is Henry. We hear Danny begin to narrate the scene and we learn that before Derek went to jail the white kids in the neighborhood didn't have to be afraid of the black kids because Derek made the area safe.

      The next scenes are flashbacks explaining Derek's journey from a suburban white kid to a vengeance-seeking white supremacist. When Danny and Derek were younger, a black drug dealer shot their father, an LA firefighter, while he was doing his job. Soon after that, a middle-aged white supremacist, Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), sought out Derek, hoping to begin a new movement throughout the suburban white youth culture. Cameron convinced Derek that what happened to his father was an act of racism by the black man and it wasn't right and he, or any other white kid, shouldn't be scared. Derek, a natural leader and brilliant orator, began rounding up scared suburban white kids for his new gang and telling them that there was nothing to be afraid of anymore. This new craze became so popular among the kids of Venice Beach that Derek soon became an icon. His legacy started then and continued even throughout the time he spent in jail. The night Derek was arrested, three young Black men were trying to break into his car. Danny hears them and informs his brother. Derek rushed downstairs, gun in hand, and opened the door and began shooting the men. Killing two of the three, Derek then demanded the last man to put his upper teeth on the curb and not move. He then ruthlessly kills him by stomping on the back of his head. Almost immediately after, the police arrive and take Derek away, who submits to them without a fight. As he's handcuffed, Danny sees that Derek has a very telling smile on his face. Later, while Danny attempts to type Sweeney's assignment, he reflects on the fact that if he'd been called into court to testify against his brother, his brother would have been convicted of first degree murder and drawn a much harsher sentence.

      In jail, Derek tries to find a group of people to hang out with as protection from the Hispanic and black prisoners. Not too long after arriving, he finds a group of white supremacists that accept him. As time went by, Derek noticed and starts to realize the compromises men made to stay ahead in the jail - because the supremacists were a minority, they paid a non-white gang to keep them safe. When he learned that a fellow white supremacist was doing favors for a Mexican man, he became enraged and stopped interacting with the group. Later, Derek was assigned laundry duty with a black inmate named Lamont. Lamont was friendly toward Derek, but Derek was not friendly back, at first. Soon Lamont and Derek began to befriend each other and became good acquaintances. Angered that Derek had befriended a black inmate and seemed to be abandoning them, the gang attacks him in the shower, one of them raping him. The day this happened, Dr. Sweeney, who was also Derek's teacher, came to visit him. As soon as he arrived, Derek broke down in tears and told Sweeney that he wanted out and that he wanted to take everything back and move as far away as possible so he wouldn't hurt his family anymore. Dr. Sweeney told Derek that it wasn't enough; Danny was headed down the same path and he must do whatever was necessary for Danny to not end up like him. Derek agreed and told him that he was ready to do anything for his brother once he was out.

      After about three years, Derek is released from prison and returns home to find that Danny has become a white supremacist as well. He also learns that what was once a small following has turned into a considerably large one due to Cameron's influence and Derek's legend. That night, Danny and Derek both go to a party that Cameron is throwing for Derek's homecoming. Once there, he finds his old girlfriend, Stacey (Fairuza Balk), and asks her to move far away with him. He tells her that he doesn't want any of this anymore, he's done with white supremacy. Following that, she asks him if he's crazy and runs off in anger. Derek looks for Danny and finally finds him in Cameron's office. Derek tells Danny to leave and that there is a girl outside waiting for him. After Danny leaves, Derek confronts Cameron and tells him that he's done with the whole white supremacist thing and he knows Cameron's game - Cameron had once rolled over on a couple of his own men and let them go to jail. Cameron is infuriated and they start to argue. The argument ends when Derek punches Cameron in the face and then kicks him again while he's down. Derek leaves and calls for Danny to come with him. On his way out, Seth Ryan (Ethan Suplee), a friend of Derek's before he went to jail, starts yelling at him and demanding an answer as to what happened to Cameron. Derek is befuddled and keeps yelling for Danny but then Seth pulls out a gun and points it at Derek. Stacey begins to yell from the side, "Shoot him! Shoot him!" and Seth continues to get closer and closer. Just as Seth is about to do it, Derek grabs the gun and points it up then pushes him and tells him to step away. Derek calls Danny and starts to run away, gun in hand.

      Danny soon catches up to him and Derek begins to explain his life in prison & his change in attitude. Even though Danny is frustrated with Derek, because he's giving up the only thing he thinks brings the white kids hope against the non-white race, he understands and forgives him and they walk home. When they arrive, Danny begins working on his paper and Derek enters the room. They both look at each other and move toward the wall that is covered in white supremacist propaganda; they take everything down. When they're done, Danny returns to the computer to write his paper and Derek gets into the shower. The following morning, at sunrise, Danny is narrator, telling us the end to his story. He says that he's never watched the sunrise before and he hopes that this paper is what he, Dr. Sweeney, is looking for. Derek gets ready for his meeting with his probation officer and soon they leave together. Derek walks Danny to school before his meeting, and on their way they stop at a Café. There, they meet up with Dr. Sweeney and Captain Rasmussen. They tell Derek that Cameron and Seth were found last night after being jumped and they are now in the hospital. Dr. Sweeney and Rasmussen both ask Derek if he knows anything about it and he swears he doesn't. Derek tells them that he has somewhere to go and that he's going to walk Danny to school before he goes. They set off on their way. As Derek is dropping him off, he staggers over words and finally says "I'll see you at home." Danny departs for the front doors and Derek heads down the street. While he's walking, the audience can sense the fear in Derek. At the same time, Danny enters the bathroom just before class starts. What Danny doesn't know is that Henry is in the bathroom as well. He raises a gun and shoots Danny a number of times as blood spatters against the bathroom stall, he falls to the ground lifeless.

      Next we see Derek is in the bathroom with Danny. He sits with him and holds his body close to his, extremely distraught. The only things we can hear between sobs are the remarks Derek is making to himself about what he's done. Immediately after, Danny's voice takes over as narrator and we hear the closing statement of the paper he's written about his brother:

      "So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned - my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it. Derek says it's always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you'd like. 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.' " We see an image of Venice Beach as waves crash over the sunset, then the credits start to roll.

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