The film American History X by Tony Kaye looks at the idea of manipulation, one of the roots of racism. Kaye uses dialogue, close-ups, a mise-en-scene, a wide-shot and a mid-shot to show how easy it is to be manipulated, despite your intelligence. Kaye’s purpose is to show that if you are manipulated under the right circumstances and the manipulation is coming from the people you love, then racism and hate can be adapted. During a flashback of the Vinyard family we learn that it was Derek’s father that first planted the seed of racism within Derek by manipulating him.
We are presented with a dinner scene where we learn the influence Derek’s father has on Derek. Kaye uses a mise-en-scene by placing Derek’s father at the head of the table and positioning Derek just to the right of him. Derek is continuously looking up to his father and the audience can see how Derek feeds off what his father says. Derek starts enthusiastically describing his African American history teacher and how he is excited to read a book with a black theme. However his father’s response is extremely negative. Sarcastically he says, “Is this part of black history month”.
His father then explains how two black fire-fighters got their jobs over two white fire-fighters who got higher in the test. He asks Derek “is that fair? ”. A close-up of a stunned, wide eyed Derek is used. The purpose of this close-up is to show how Derek’s perspectives about race are changed for the first time. Derek is easily manipulated by his father because he admires and trusts him and his opinions on society. Kaye acknowledges the vulnerability of teenagers to pick up racist traits from those who they love. Derek, like most boys, look up to their father and hang on to the words they say.
Kaye understands the influence a father has on his children. According to fathersandsons. org. nz a child is 20 times more likely to end up in prison without a great father figure. Kaye is sending a message to all the fathers that view this film. He wants to make clear that what you say, do and how you act will affect your children’s lives. He knows that the time a dad has to influence his children’s lives is limited. So he wants the time that fathers do have to be cherished and made the most out of. Someone who also manipulates Derek is Cameron.
Cameron is the leader of the gang Derek gets involved. Cameron preys on the vulnerable and uses their rage and frustration to accomplish his hate-filled goals. Derek is a prime target as he is emotionally affected after his father is killed by the hands of African Americans. Cameron uses alternative methods of manipulation depending on a gang member’s intelligence level. Before Derek arrives at a party, intending to talk to Cameron, Derek’s little brother Danny, who shares the same intelligence as his brother is talking to Cameron.
He is only having a general conversation with Danny, however, if we contrast this to the loud, outrageous and drunken behaviour outside we can see the difference. Kaye uses diegetic sound of pumping music to show how most can be manipulated by women, alcohol and a good time against the more intellectual leaders which require a quieter environment in a civilised room. This is similar for Derek earlier in the film before he and his gang raid a grocery store. Whilst his gang are getting drunk and high waiting for Derek, a wide-shot displays Cameron talking to Derek in a car.
The purpose of this visual technique is to show how Cameron manipulates the more intellectual gang members accordingly. In this conversation Cameron is reminding as to why we do this and how it is for America’s benefit. As Cameron believes it is immigrants who are ruining American society. Kaye addresses the fact that no matter how intelligent you are, under the right circumstances racism and hate can be adapted. Kaye shows that racism is not something you are born with, it is a learnt trait. He believes that these traits are learnt by the ones you trust and love.
Although Derek is a victim of manipulation, he is also a persuasive manipulator himself. Before he and his gang raid a grocery store that is owned by immigrants he makes a compelling and convincing speech to motivate his followers. He says “Americans should look after Americans before looking after immigrants”. As he is speaking the camera is fixed on him at a mid-shot and would occasionally flick to close-ups of other members of the gang, including Danny. The camera would catch their stimulated faces, almost spellbound by Derek’s speech. The purpose of this is to show how easily young men and boys can be captivated by racist ideas.
Kaye makes the speech so persuasive that even the audience is manipulated by Derek’s hate-filled views. Derek finishes his speech with “be part of something”. Derek knows exactly what they want to hear. He knows this because it is exactly how Cameron manipulated him. Derek was fuming and irritated after his father’s death and Cameron offered him ways to release his anger. Likewise these angry and frustrated young men want to blame others for their misfortunes. Kaye understands how some of these misguided and not as fortunate young men would find it so easy to put the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders.
Much of the angry and frustrated youth think that by blaming other people and hating others for their misfortunes will make them feel better. American Hstory X is a film that explores why people hate other races. Kaye uses the film to show the effect it has on the youth. He includes close-ups, mid-shots, a mise-en-scene, wide-shots and dialogue to describe his purpose. These visual and verbal techniques shows that if a person is angry and frustrated, despite their intelligence, if they are manipulated by the people they think they can trust, anyone can learn how to hate.