TIFF Review: Kerry Washington Stuns in ‘American Son’ Bringing the Harsh Reality of Race and Parenting to the Screen

American Son directed by Kenny Leon tells the story of estranged married couple, Kendra (Kerry Washington) and Scott (Steven Pasquale) reuniting at a police station when their son, Jamal is missing. Their encounter together leads to rehashing the dynamics of their relationship.

Kendra is a mother that’s pushed to the edge

Kerry Washington in 'American Son'
Kerry Washington in ‘American Son’ Courtesy of TIFF

Kendra is a mother that’s pushed to the edge from not knowing what happened to her son. She also is very isolated during this event given the police officer who is available, Larkin (Jeremy Jordan) would rather assume the worst of her Black son than help her.

When Scott enters the picture the tension in the room only builds. That’s because their personal relationship issues already has them at odds. The stress of trying to find their son adds to it all.

American Son was previously a play starring the same cast. This movie adaptation hardly strays from the play format. The events mostly take place in one room in the station besides a few flashbacks.

This movie adaptation hardly strays from the play format

This format is a good thing because the characters being bottled into one location holds that tension. It also will allow other audiences feel like they’re getting the play experience, which isn’t accessible to everyone.

The cast is completely the same as the play and it shows. Washington is at her best in this role. She makes Kendra feel so lived in and raw. The script handled by someone else would have an audience feel like its being talked at, but Washington is able to paint pictures with the words which takes you outside of the police station at times.

It focuses on the fear a parent of a Black child goes through to keep that child safe

The screenplay by Christopher Demos-Brown is a powerful one. It focuses on the fear a parent of a Black child goes through to keep that child safe. The discussions Kendra and Scott have as parents of a biracial child are very real. We don’t often get to see the kind disagreements or point of views that can come with that. This play handles it very well.

Pasquale perfectly fits what Scott would act like given his profession. However, I wasn’t really moved by his softer moments with Washington. She, on the other hand, manages the perfect balance one needs for being angry at someone you once loved. There is also the balance needed to play someone very conflicted with the best way to survive through life.

This story is one that should be seen by many. That’s because there are several hard discussions being had by two people who are connected through love. This dynamic has tension that can be released through some kind of common ground.

The movie’s themes are timely and important. It brings conversations that are already being had privately to a more public stage. The messages are delivered through great acting from Washington. It puts the audience in the shoes of too many mothers who have gone through the same experience only to later be forgotten.

American Son is set to be released on Netflix on Nov. 1.