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American Skin

Tiny Giant Entertainment, 2021


Nate Parker

Reading Time:

3 minutes

American SkinR Naught (CRLTXLK9CDNFAEV2)
00:00 / 04:15

📷 : Used with permission, Sterling Light Productions

American Skin


Image of movie's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with a lot of dialog


Image of movie's tea brew

Thought-provoking movies and TV shows

Reba Chaisson


I recently reconnected with a cousin I hadn’t been close to in more than 30 years. Hearing about her life now made me realize how I had frozen her in time. She had been, in my mind at least, still the teenager I went to school with and the young lady I last saw just beginning her life as an adult. It has happened to me before, where I had frozen people in time because I had not interacted with them in so long. This is the sensation I felt with American Skin, like I was frozen in time because somehow life just stopped during this story.

Written and directed by Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation, Eden), the film is about a Black man’s reaction to the murder of his 14 year‑old son, Kajani, by a White police officer during a traffic stop. We often hear that children are the center of their parents’ lives, and that losing them to tragedy depletes their own lives of meaning, making it difficult to move on–freezing them in time. When asked why he still works at his son’s school, Kajani’s father simply could not respond. It was as if he had no answer for the question. But while this film’s storyline is familiar, the father’s way of dealing with his immeasurable grief, loss of purpose, and subsequent lack of justice is far from typical. And it is a step he rationalizes as necessary to propel him forward again.

Lincoln “Linc” Jefferson, played by Parker, stages a direct confrontation with the police that deals head‑on with questions around justice, fairness, and accountability. The film does far more than nibble around the edges and offer platitudes, but instead takes a deep dive to explore and reveal the ugliness underlying these issues. For a period, the dialog feels like an intense exchange among passionate students in a sociology or political science course. Long overdue, the discussion is both needed and welcome.

The emotional depths of the performances compel us to face ourselves as individuals and acknowledge our part in perpetuating the disrespectful and inhumane treatment of people of color in America. At its core, the film beckons us to grapple with what it means to be an American. And the strong acting and meaningful dialog keep viewers interested, engaged, and perhaps even wanting to participate in addressing this question.

Clearly, American Skin is being used to educate. The film spurs us to critically think about a number of searing, enduring, and relevant issues, such as:

  • What it means to have a jury of your peers.

  • The degree to which Blacks and Hispanics in particular are dehumanized by police and further diminished in the justice process, as well as the cumulative stress they endure as a result.

  • The depths of denial people will travel to protect their outward identities, even at a cost to themselves.

  • The readiness of White jurors to empathize with police officers and attach meaning to their lives, and refusal to recognize the same humanity in Blacks and Hispanics.

Like classroom discourses, the film leaves us with the understanding that it is okay to be conflicted at times, and that it is okay not to have all the answers. That the importance lies in having an informed perspective and being aware of our own stance. That courage lies in shedding the veneer and being true to ourselves. American Skin insists that these prerequisites be fulfilled to ensure tragedies like this one don’t repeat. If you are interested in attending this class, then take a seat. Be prepared to be transfixed for 90 minutes and to feel emotionally spent when it ends.

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