There Is A True Story Behind American Son — But It’s Bigger Than Jamal Ellis-Connor

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Kerry Washington may be best known for her portrayal of Olivia Pope in Scandal, but her latest project, Netflix’s American Son, focuses on a major problem in society that not even Washington D.C.’s best fixer could change: racial injustice. In American Son, Washington plays Kendra Ellis-Connor, who reunites with her estranged husband (Steven Pasquale) in a Miami, Florida police station where they try to piece together where their missing teenage son could be. The more time goes on, the more scared they become, and the police do very little to offset their worry. The premise sounds like every parent’s worst nightmare, but is American Son based on a true story? Not quite, but the project explores some important (and unfortunate) truths about the world.
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American Son is actually an adaptation of a Broadway play of the same name, which Washington starred in last November. And while the play itself isn’t based on one specific real-life story, it explores the truth of the real issues that exist among law enforcement.
“Keep your hands on the wheel boy! Look straight ahead. Don’t make any sudden moves,” Washington’s character states in the trailer, depicting how she envisions a routine traffic stop would go for her biracial son. “Wouldn’t want to make the man in the bulletproof vest nervous when he’s pointing a Glock at your head.”
For Washington, the subject matter is vital and she hopes the film will serve as an eye-opener to those who don’t fully understand the racial biases that exist in even the subtlest of ways.
“Every single person who watches the film is able to have the experience of seeing themselves and their perspective at least once and then also have a moment where they go, ‘Oh, wow. I didn’t know that I was doing that,” she told Refinery29 in a previous interview.
That effect is part of why she wanted to do the play in the first place: “That’s part of why I thought the material was so smart. Because it was forcing us to ask questions and dig deeper and not operate along the lines of our societal norms and, really, stereotypes.”
Many of us already know the names of victims of police who appear to have been guided by prejudice and racial bias: Eric Garner. Philando Castile. Laquan Macdonald. Atatiana Jefferson. The list feels endless.
But do we really know what role our own biases play in society? American Son asks us to figure that out.
So while it isn’t based on a true story, per se, it also absolutely is.
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