Christopher Demos-Brown’s ‘American Son’ has made its way to our screens this Friday after its critically acclaimed performance on Broadway. With support from the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama and Gabrielle Union assisting on the production, it was no wonder that Demos-Brown’s play was a hit, and the decision was made to bring the production from stage to screen with its original cast, exclusive to Netflix.
The 90-minute drama adapted for screen takes place all in a single location, the back room of a police station where Kendra (Kerry Washington) has been waiting to hear back from the late-night on-duty officer, played by Jeremy Jordan about her missing 18-year-old son, Jamal.
Washington’s performance as a frantic mother in 21st century America couldn’t be more unnerving. Set in the backdrop to lost lives like that of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, ‘American Son’ deals with the frightening concept that those we love, if they are young, Black boys, may not return home one day. Washington’s character is steadily unravelled by the lack of help from Jordan, who questions Washington’s son’s motivations, outfit choices and even asks if he has, “a street name.” To which Washington replies, “Like Peanut. Or Black?”. Demos-Brown’s characters escalate quickly, with Kendra (Washington) scoffing and huffing in response to questions asked by Officer Larkin (Jordan), which are implying that Jamal is a bad kid or just blowing off some steam with “a girl.” As Kendra grows increasingly agitated under Larkin’s false sense of care and patronizing nature, the two come to blows about a re-occurring theme in the show, race.
Tension is further exacerbated by the arrival of Kendra’s estranged ex-husband (Steven Pasquale), who is mistaken for another Officer from the police department. Jordan’s character shows the distinct difference between how a Black Woman is dealt with by law enforcement compared to how White Men are catered to on a level that is far more empathetic and understanding than when dealing with Black people. Officer Larkin is quick to divulge all the information he knows about this case, things he hasn’t even told Washington’s character yet, he also goes as far as to refer to Washington’s character as a “bitch” and uses terms such as “ghetto” to describe Washington’s level of anger towards the situation.
With a small cast and majority of the lines being awarded to Washington, it’s not hard to see why Demos-Brown decided to give her the meat of the acting. Washington shines in her delivery of lines, as the only woman in a cast of men who are continually belittling and dismissing her commentary and lines of thought we feel sympathetic towards her character.
Sometimes it feels as though commentary and the conversations had a surrounding race and inter-racial relationships, in particular, have been rushed, but that is not a fault of the cast, maybe instead Demos-Brown felt compelled to fit as many tropes and conversation starters into a single 90 minutes, who knows?