American History X

American History X
American History X

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tony Kaye
Produced by John Morrissey
Written by David McKenna
Narrated by Edward Furlong
Edward Norton
Starring Edward Norton
Edward Furlong
Fairuza Balk
Stacy Keach
Elliott Gould
Avery Brooks
Beverly D'Angelo
Music by Anne Dudley
Cinematography Tony Kaye
Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg
Alan Heim
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release date(s) October 23, 1998 (1998-10-23)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[1]
Box office $23,875,127[1]

American History X is a 1998 American drama film directed by Tony Kaye and starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong. It was distributed by New Line Cinema.

The film tells the story of two brothers, Derek Vinyard (Norton) and Daniel "Danny" Vinyard (Furlong) of Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California. Both are intelligent and charismatic students. Their father, a firefighter, is murdered by a black drug dealer while trying to extinguish a fire in a South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles, and Derek is drawn into the neo-Nazi movement. Derek brutally kills two black gang members whom he catches in the act of breaking into the truck left to him by his father, and is sentenced to three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter. The story shows how Danny is influenced by his older brother's actions and ideology and how Derek, now radically changed by his experience in incarceration, which includes violent rape by white inmates, tries to prevent his brother from going down the same path as he did. The film is told in the style of nonlinear narrative.

David McKenna scripted the film and shooting took place in Los Angeles, California. The film was released in the United States on October 30, 1998 and went on to gross over $23 million at the international box office. It was given an "R" rating by the MPAA for "graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity."

Critics mostly praised the film and Edward Norton was given an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It was also named by Empire magazine in September 2008 as the 311th Greatest Movie of All Time.



Flashbacks throughout the film show Derek's transformation into a vengeful white supremacist in Venice Beach. Having already been influenced by his bigoted firefighter father's latent racism, 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., and entices young whites to join. The gang commits acts of intimidation, such as damaging a store owned by a Korean and challenging black players to basketball games to win the court as turf. These incidents go unnoticed by the family until Derek has an argument (involving Rodney King) with his mother's new boyfriend Murray (Elliot Gould), who is Jewish. Later that night, while Derek is having sex with his equally-white supremacist girlfriend Stacey (Fairuza Balk), Danny informs Derek that three Crips members are attempting to steal their father's truck. Derek runs outside and shoots at two of the men with a pistol, killing the first one instantly. He shoots and wounds the second man, one of the black basketball players, and vows to "teach him a lesson" for trying to steal the truck his father gave him. He forces him to put his mouth on the curb, then brutally kills him with a curb-stomp. Danny watches in horror as this unfolds. The police arrest Derek as he smiles at a shocked Danny.

After being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Derek is sentenced to three years at the California Institution for Men in Chino.[2] There, he joins the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. After about a year, he becomes disillusioned with the gang, especially over the group's friendly dealings with a Mexican prison gang member, and their trafficking in narcotics. When he voices these opinions, he is first ignored and then reprimanded by the other white supremacists. Derek also develops a friendly rapport with black prison inmate, Lamont (Guy Torry), who works with him in the prison laundry. His fellow neo-Nazis take notice of this and savagely beat and rape him in the shower.

While still recovering from the attack, Derek is visited by his black, former English teacher Dr. Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks), whom he asks for help to be paroled. Although Derek later became an anti-Semitic neo-Nazi, he had always maintained a level of respect for his black teacher. Sweeney informs him of Danny's aspiration to become a neo-Nazi like Derek. Sweeney confides in Derek that he used to hate white people as a youth, and he realized that racism is pointless. Sweeney asserts that Derek has spent his life pursuing answers, and then asks: "Has anything you've done made your life better?" This proves a turning point for Derek, who further distances himself from the Aryan Brotherhood and changes his outlook on life. Lamont emerges as Derek's only true friend in prison, and is part of the reason Derek stays alive as he uses what influence he has to persuade a contingent of black prisoners to protect Derek from his former Aryan Brotherhood associates.

The morning Derek is due to be released from prison, Danny's history teacher, Murray, reports Danny to the now-principal Dr. Sweeney on account of Danny's history paper on Mein Kampf, Hitler's autobiography. Dr. Sweeney convinces Murray to give him another chance. He tells Danny that he will no longer attend Murray's class, and every day Dr. Sweeney will teach Danny history, a class they will call "American History X". For their first lesson, Dr. Sweeney asks Danny to write a new paper on the events leading up to Derek's incarceration. Danny reluctantly agrees after Sweeney threatens expulsion. In the evening, when Derek returns home, he finds that Danny has become a white power skinhead and then tries and fails to convince him to leave the gang. Later that night, at a neo-Nazi party which Derek and Danny are both attending (despite the fact that Derek made Danny promise he wouldn't go), Derek confronts and tells the leader, Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), that he will no longer associate with him and the gang and tells him to "Stay away from him and Danny", at which point Cameron provokes and insults Derek who beats him up and knocks him unconscious before leaving his office. During an ensuing confrontation, Derek's neo-Nazi friend Seth Ryan (Ethan Suplee) runs after Derek and aims a pistol at him, which Derek wrestles from him, and points it at the angry crowd before running away from the party. Danny angrily confronts Derek, who tells him about his time and transformation in prison. The confession seems to prompt a change in Danny.

The following morning Danny finishes his paper, and Derek gets ready for a meeting with his parole officer. Derek walks Danny to school before his meeting, and on their way they stop at a café where they are met by Dr. Sweeney and a police officer. They tell Derek that Cameron and Seth were attacked the previous night and have been hospitalized. Derek claims no knowledge of the incidents, yet they ask him for help. Derek reluctantly agrees.

At school, after Danny uses the urinal in the bathroom, he is confronted by a young black student with whom he had a confrontation the previous day. The student shoots and kills Danny. When Derek arrives, he runs into the bathroom and tearfully cradles his dead brother in his arms. The film ends with Danny narrating part of his paper, in which he quotes the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address: "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."



With some suggestions from New Line, Tony Kaye, the film's director, manufactured a second heavily shortened cut, which New Line rejected as it bore little resemblance to the first. Film editor Jerry Greenberg was brought in to cut a third version with Edward Norton.

Kaye disowned the third version as the final cut of the film, as he did not approve of its quality.[3] He tried (and failed) to have his name removed from the credits,[4][5] openly telling some interviewers he tried to invoke the Alan Smithee pseudonym which the Directors Guild of America used to reserve for such cases. When refused he then tried "Humpty Dumpty" as an alternative name.

Joaquin Phoenix was offered the role of Derek Vinyard but turned it down.[6]


Box office

American History X grossed $6,719,864 from 513 theaters in the United States, and a total of $23,875,127 worldwide.[1]

Critical reception

The film received mostly positive reviews and Norton's performance was critically acclaimed. Based on the reviews of 81 critics collected on Rotten Tomatoes, 81% of critics gave the film a positive review, with the consensus being "A compelling and provocative story led by an excellent performance by Edward Norton."[7] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, regarding it as "always interesting and sometimes compelling, and it contains more actual provocative thought than any American film on race since Do the Right Thing".[8]

On the other hand, some critics were not impressed with the film. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film two out of five stars, saying that "in some places the dialogue is surprisingly stilted. Far worse, the ending is a misfire."[9]

Awards and nominations

Edward Norton was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Derek Vinyard.[10][11]


  1. ^ a b c American History X (1998) - Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Whitty, Stephen. "Down by Law." Entertainment Weekly. April 9, 1999. Retrieved on September 27, 2010. "The 25-minute black-and-white flashback begins with Norton waking up in Chino, angry and uncowed;"
  3. ^ Maurer, Monika (9 1998). "A Quick Chat with Tony Kaye by Monika Maurer". 
  4. ^ McCarthy, Todd (1998-10-22). "American History X". Variety. Archived from the original on 2009-07-23. Retrieved 2009-07-23. ""It is possible that some otherwise well-disposed critics may restrain their praise, even unwittingly, in knee-jerk sympathy with director Kaye, who disowns this cut and lost his bid to take his name off the picture."" 
  5. ^ Kaye, Tony (2002-10-25). "Losing it". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  6. ^ "Great roles actors have turned down". Yahoo Movies. 
  7. ^ "American History X (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (1998-10-30). "American History X Review". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  9. ^ LaSalle, Mick (1998-10-30). "Neo Nazi with a Conscience - Norton Shines, But History Disappoints". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  10. ^ - Edward Norton - Actors and Actresses - Films as Actor:, Publications
  11. ^ - Edward Norton Biography - Yahoo! movies

External links

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