In a shocking opening scene, teen Danny Vinyard who is played by Edward Furlong, races to tell his older brother, neo-Nazi Derek, about the young blacks breaking into his car in front of the house, whereupon Derek gets his gun and with no forethought shoots the youths in their tracks and he forces the other man to put his mouth on the curb, then brutally kills him by stomping on the back of his head, crushing his mouth against the curb.
Danny watches in horror as this unfolds. The police arrest Derek as he smiles at a shocked Danny.. Derek having already been influenced by the latent racism of his bigoted firefighter father. Derek is driven to action when his father is shot and killed while fighting a fire in a suspected Compton drug den.
Eventually Derek becomes second-in-command of a neo-Nazi street gang, The D.O.C. (Disciples of Christ), and entices young whites to join. Tried and convicted, Derek is sent away for three years in prison, where he acquires a different outlook as he contrasts white-power prisoners with black Lamont, his prison laundry co-worker and eventual pal.
Flashbacks, told in reverse chronology and represented by black-and-white throughout the film which is opposed to the present-day events represented in color, Meanwhile, Danny, with a shaved head and a rebellious attitude, seems destined to follow in his big brother’s footsteps. After Danny writes a favorable review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, black high-school principal Sweeney puts Danny in his private “American History X” course and assigns him to do a paper about his older brother, who was a former student of Sweeney’s. This serves to introduce flashbacks, with the film backtracking to illustrate Danny’s account of Derek’s life prior to the night of the shooting. Monochrome sequences of Derek leading a Venice, California gang are intercut with color footage of the mature Derek ending his past neo-Nazi associations and attempting to detour Danny away from the group led by white supremacist, Cameron, who once influenced Derek.
At a neo-Nazi party which Derek and Danny are both attending (despite the fact that Derek told Danny not to attend), Derek confronts and tells the leader, Cameron Alexander, that he will no longer associate with him and the gang and tells him to “Stay away from me and Danny”, at which point Cameron provokes and insults Derek. Derek beats him up and finally, kicks him in the head, which knocks him unconscious before leaving his office. At school the next morning, after Danny uses the urinal in the bathroom, he is confronted by a young black student named Little Henry, with whom he had a confrontation the previous day. The student pulls out a gun and shoots Danny in the chest, killing him. When Derek arrives, he runs into the bathroom and tearfully cradles his dead brother in his arms. The ending credits are Derek saying one of Abraham Lincoln’s famous sayings, “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.”There are a few conflicts in the movie. One is that Derek between the neo-Nazi after he gets out. The term subculture refers to cultural patterns that set apart some segment of a society’s population. Cultural diversity also includes outright rejection of conventional ideas or behaviors. Counterculture refers to cultural patterns that strongly oppose those widely accepted within a society. In American History X it explores the neo-Nazi skinhead subculture in America.
The skinheads are portrayed as hate-mongers; they believe in white supremacy and blame everyone else for their problems. The movie in a strong way, teaches that everyone deserves a second chance in life. Racism exists in many ways while American History X portrays one aspect of racism. The director portrays the neo-Nazi culture of America; their beliefs, reasons, and assumptions on others. American History X thoroughly exposes America as what it is today. Every day, crimes of hate are being committed mostly by blacks and whites. In the movie Derek’s father is portrayed as an ordinary working-class family man rather than a bigot to show that racism can stem from ignorance and the need to find a social scapegoat. Shots of Derek staring attentively at his father then looking down and playing with his food show his confusion, and his final submission under his father’s demands for agreement “Yeah…I never thought about it like that.” The confusion shows that Derek is impressionable, and finally believes that social problems can be generalized to be blamed other races. The change that comes from this scene is shown in a news interview tape after Derek’s father is shot while fire-fighting in a black neighborhood. Derek’s growing hate forces his change in that moment from a timid, grieving son to an angry young man whose anger is given an outlet by the shadowy adult neo-Nazi, Cameron.
In chapter three the author talks about norms which mean the rules and expectations by which a society guides the behaviors of its members. Mores are referred to norms that are widely observed and have great moral significance. People are more flexible about folkways. Folkways are norms for routine ad casual interaction. Examples include ideas about appropriate greetings, and proper dress. In the movie American History X there were a few morals that were shared between the members of this subculture. One of the main morals was that the white supremacy was better than the rest of the ethnicities. In one scene of the movie Danny says “I hate anyone that isn’t white Protestant.”
Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one’s own culture. Some degree of ethnocentrism is necessary for people to be emotionally attached to their way of life. But Ethnocentrism also generates misunderstandings and sometimes conflicts. Cultural relativism is the practice of judging a culture by its own standards. Cultural relativism requires not only openness to unfamiliar values and norms but also the ability to put aside cultural standards we have known all our lives. Even so, as people of the world come into increasing contact with one another, the importance of understanding other cultures become ever greater.
One person who is ethnocentric is Danny who judges other cultures mainly the black culture because he was raised around a neo-Nazi brother and father most of his life. Derek was ethnocentric but due to some circumstances he turned into cultural relativism because he was more open and more understanding since he came back from prison. He went to prison because of his actions as an ethnocentric. He came out a changed man because he got raped because he was a neo-Nazi and his cell mate was a black and he was the only one who helped him and before Derek was released his cell mate was murdered.
The social message in this movie was that racism is still a big problem here in America. It might not really look like it but it still exists. The movie insights of the racist of our social world. It also shows the audience an insight of the ethnocentrism community.