American History X Analytic Film Summary
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The Circle of Hate
Hate seems like a very strong word, until you look back to the early times of life. From our very evolutionary roots comes our need to pre-classify and harbor strong feelings toward unknown others. Our ancestors survived in part because of this highly adapted skill of social categorizing. There is a fine line, however, between cautious stereotyping and the of border racism. In the classic film American History X, directed by Tony Kaye, two brothers lose their innocence in a white supremacist world of racial hatred, self-pity, and social ignorance. It is only through the concern and compassion of the strong minded few that they are able to overcome this fiery racism.
The brothers, Derek and Danny Vineyard, were raised along with their two sisters by their parents in Venice, California. Derek was the eldest of his three siblings, all exceptionally bright and seemingly educated. Dereks father, Dennis, a firefighter, was killed in the line of duty when Derek was still in high school. While the film does not focus much on his father, he is shown to bestow on his children many frustrated prejudicial beliefs. We see this frustration spill out in one flashback during the film, when the family is gathered around the dinner table: Derek was telling everyone that he had been assigned to read a novel written by an African American author by his new English teacher, Bob Sweeny. While his excitement about the material was obvious, his father disapproved of the study. He tells Derek and the rest of the family how the minorities are “taking over”, even going so far as to profess that “We dont know (the minorities), and we dont want to know them.” It was not even that Dennis was an old-fashioned racist. Not at all. An overworked, underpaid firefighter, Dennis Vineyard lived in a world that was slowly becoming both more difficult to survive in and more ethnically diverse. He witnessed the replacement of two American firefighters by two African Americans, as the result of new affirmative action laws. This situation surely led him to doubt whether he himself might one day be replaced. He and many other white Americans felt the strong pull of sharing on their hands. By blaming his hardships on “the system” and the minorities it supported, rather than his own abilities.
This form of prejudice against minorities is spread throughout the United States in the form of racism. Essentially, members of the majority in group feel threatened by members of the out group as they begin to achieve greater success, and thus learn to hate them for “taking over. Instead of getting to know his new coworkers personally, he placed doubt in their abilities based on pre-defined beliefs. It was through this, and a handful of other unseen, but imagined discriminatory preachings, that the two brothers learned to hate those they didnt understand, rather than learn about and accept them. Their fathers later death, the result of a random bullet from an African American gunman, only threw logs onto the already flaming fire of hatred and racism within their minds.
When his father was killed, Derek fell into the hands of Cameron Alexander, a white supremacist known to have founded a handful of racist groups. Cameron, Derek realizes later, brainwashed him and his friends into believing his racist propaganda. He did this in much the same way that Hitler did, by comforting the weak minded and blaming their various troubles on easily distinguished minority groups. Offering the perception of a calm, safe sanctuary in which these disillusioned youth could hide from their daily pressures, Cameron taught Derek and the others to practice the old-fashioned form of racism, viewing them as his ethnic soldiers and sending them on various racist missions to openly criticize and attack other ethnic groups. One of these violent outings involved the destruction of a local grocery store. The grocery store had once been owned by a local American, and had recently been bought by a Korean American. In this attack they practiced both symbolic racism, by seeking to cause as much damage as possible to the store property, as well as old-fashioned racism by physically and mentally attacking the employees and the owner. Derek became so entirely hateful at the result of Cameron, that he ended up brutaly murdering two African Americans who were attempting to steal his car in the middle of the night, In which Danny had alerted him of the robbery. At the time of the murders, he was clearly proud of his actions, but this opinion was to change from his experiences in jail.
While incarcerated, Derek went through a rapid and significant shift in how he viewed his ethnic beliefs. Vital to this shift was the racial makeup of the new environment in which he was living. While Derek was part of the majority in the outside world, in prison