TW...Thoughts on American Skin
Updated: Jul 8, 2021
All white people should watch this movie with your kids, and then talk about it with them. I am sitting in my living room in the silence, after just watching the Prime movie American Skin, written, directed, and starring Nate Parker. It is a movie inside a movie, where the main character, Linc Jefferson, is being followed by a college documentary team chronicling the story of his young son KJ who is shot and killed by a white officer during a traffic stop in front of his father. The movie takes place about a year and a half after the shooting and the family is still reeling from his death while they wait for the Grand Jury to announce their decision on whether the officer would be brought up on charges. A year and a half...
I thought I was ready for the emotions that would be expressed, as we have seen it in real life so many times before. The immeasurable pain of the father, a Iraq war veteran, who tried so hard to prepare his son for the 2-sided justice system that would see his son dead before it would allow him access to rights under the law that his white counterparts are afforded. KJ is smart and knows his rights- as they are down on paper- but his Dad tells him to forget all of that so that he can come home to him alive. The anguish of KJ's Mom who is visited by the Police Chief, a Black man, begging her to go on camera to ask the community to calm down and stop the riots that erupted after the Grand Jury announced there was no probable cause for charges. The unbridled anger of KJ's cousin who wants the cops out of his Aunt's house and has no plans to give them any consideration, no matter what race the Police Chief is.
Linc and his friends take over the City Hall with the policeman, the Police Chief, and at least a dozen other officers inside to formulate a trial to see justice for his son. They bring non-violent offenders out of their holding cells to put together a jury along with secretaries, a parking attendant, and even a white woman who was there to pay a parking ticket. Linc acts as prosecutor and one of the cops plays the defender as they commence the trial of the cop who shot and killed KJ. The dialogue was expected, brilliantly acted, and brought up all the feelings of disgust and anger toward the cops who continue to justify racially profiling Linc and KJ, offering the "I just wanted to go home to my son and family" defense that always seems to make sense for the cops, but is never a consideration for the Black people pulled over for driving while Black.
Spoiler alert... the jury convicts, Linc has the cop call his wife and kid to say goodbye, and tensions erupt as Linc puts the gun to the cops' forehead and pulls the trigger... CLICK! No bullet in the chamber. Linc simply wanted the cop to know what he had been feeling for the year and a half since KJ's murder, and as everyone is walking out of the station with their hands in the air, the cop tells Linc he wants to walk out with him to offer protection for him from the SWAT team waiting outside.
I rolled my eyes at the white savior twist that was expected at this juncture. I was glad the cop showed he had learned something, and that he wanted to try to help Linc leave there alive, but I didn't want it to redeem him in any way. As they approached the entrance with hands in the air, the cop is calling out to his colleagues outside, "This is officer >>> and I am coming out with Lincoln Jefferson who is unarmed, I repeat he is unarmed" BAM!
Those were the same words Linc had been saying about KJ when the cop shot him that night. "He was unarmed, he was unarmed." It didn't help then, and it didn't help Linc trying to turn himself in. The cop didn't care that night, and he didn't know it wouldn't help with Linc.
Why are we, as white people, so oblivious to what white supremacy looks like, how it affects others, and how we can't just change it because we awaken?? For some, it's because we benefit from it and don't want to see it, straight up. For others, it's because we see it but can't wrap our brains around how it doesn't just change because one of us wakes up. Even with all I know, I still hoped Linc would walk out of there alive, just as the cop who was trying to shield him with his words and body, thinking that if they just knew he was unarmed they wouldn't shoot him. When he fell after one shot to the head, the SWAT team rushed in, stepping over Linc's body one by one as if he wasn't even there and I sobbed from somewhere deep inside, wondering how we can continue to live in a society that throws away the lives of those who continue to be in our energetic, if not physical, bondage because we can't look in the mirror and face the truth of our own demons. How Black people continue to breathe each day without being consumed by hate is beyond me, truly.