American History X Discussion Guide
American History X is a deeply disturbing and brutally violent film about the white skinhead movement in contemporary United States culture. Not only does this film depict the most disturbing and flagrant aspects of racism, but also shows how close hate movements are to mainstream, middle-class, white Americans.
A fictional story told through they eyes of a youth who is being recruited in the white power movement, this film shows how racial hatred is part of American culture. It also shows the means to which white people will go to maintain their privilege, particularly when they feel their institutional and cultural dominance being encroached upon.
American History X is also an important film because, if examined closely, it shows the interconnection of oppressions. The culture that allows for racial hatred also enforces gender roles and requires violence to enforce all aspects of its hierarchy. The same world-view that allows for the devaluation based on skin color, requires a culture of dominance that permeates all aspects of life.
This film comes with a serious caution to the facilitator. It is profoundly violent and disturbing. There are a number of scenes that depict gruesome murders, in detail. There is a rape scene. The language is angry and hateful. The whole movie will feel like an assault on your senses. However, it is worth seeing. It is well done and meaningful. The violence is not gratuitous, but rather is used to make the viewer understand a disturbing piece of reality. As Unitarian Universalists, this film asks us to grapple with the theological concepts of hate and evil, as they are embodied in our world today. Please make sure that you provide for the pastoral resources and support necessary to deal with this kind of subject matter.
Things to Think About
As you are watching the movie try to think about institutional racism, how are people of color treated differently? (for example prison, school, etc.)
- How do you feel right now?
- What emotions has this film evoked in you?
- Where do you think those feelings have come from?
- What personal experiences have been recalled in you?
- What do you think this film says about racism in the United States today?
- How is racism different today than it was thirty years ago, before the Civil Rights movement?
- Do you think white people have access to more power and privilege than people of color do in the United States? Why do you think that?
- What do you think of affirmative action programs and other efforts to combat institutional racism?
- What and/or who could you relate to in the film?
- What are the attitudes towards women, gay people, poor people, and people with disabilities in this movie?
- How are these attitudes related to attitudes toward people of color in this movie?
- Do you know people with racist views?
- What do you do when you hear racist remarks?
- Are there organized hate groups in your community?
- How does your congregation respond to these groups?
- Do you think we can end racism in America? How?