American Son is an American drama film directed by Kenny Leon and written by Christopher Demos-Brown, based on his Broadway play of the same name. The film stars Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, Jeremy Jordan and Eugene Lee. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2019, and was released on Netflix on November 1, 2019.
On a stormy night in a Miami police station, Kendra Ellis-Connor is waiting for a report on the whereabouts of her son Jamal, who has suddenly disappeared. She asks for help from Officer Paul Larkin, a rookie cop who can’t tell her anything about the incident. Due to both protocol and a lack of knowledge of the incident, he tells her that he has to wait for Lieutenant John Stokes, the AM shift liaison officer. Her estranged husband, FBI agent Scott Connor, arrives at the station, demanding to know where Jamal is.
Larkin is able to tell Scott that Jamal and two other black men were pulled over by police. The only other thing he can tell her is the fact that Jamal’s car had a provocative bumper sticker about violence against cops. This revelation develops into a long argument between Kendra and Scott, where they confront their tumultuous marriage and their experiences raising a biracial son in a privileged community. Kendra repeatedly brings up how Jamal feels depressed and isolated as one of the very few black men at his school (referring to himself as “the face of the race”), while Scott says that Jamal should have known better than to present himself like “a gangsta.”
Larkin returns and says that Jamal was with two other black men, one of whom has a warrant for misdemeanor drug possession. After this discovery, Kendra and Scott engage in a lengthy, contentious discussion about Jamal growing up in an environment of racial tension, specifically pertaining to Kendra’s own experiences as a black woman and her fears of a possible confrontation between Jamal and police. Scott says that Jamal should not have been hanging out with these men in the first place, prompting Kendra to reveal that Jamal was angry at Scott for leaving them, which is why he placed the bumper sticker on his car. Scott then receives a video from his brother, which shows a recording of the traffic stop Jamal was involved in. In it, a police officer fires at a fleeing suspect as a bystander records it.
The video sends Scott over the edge, physically threatening Larkin to know where his son is. At this time, Lieutenant Stokes arrives and places Scott under arrest after Scott shoves him. After booking Scott, Stokes tells Kendra that three black males were taken into custody in connection with the traffic stop, unable to tell if one of them was Jamal. After Scott is released after being given a “promise to appear” court order, Kendra reveals that Jamal left the house after an argument with her.
Stokes is able to obtain a full report of the incident: Bell, Rolle, and Jamal were driving around in Liberty City, where Bell (who was driving the car) stopped to purchase a ‘nickel bag’ of marijuana. Rodney Banks, a black police officer, witnessed the exchange and stopped the car. After both Bell and Rolle exited the vehicle to confront Banks, Bell fled after Banks had trained his gun on both men. Jamal at that point had exited the vehicle, trying to position himself with hands on the hood of the car. Banks proceeded to fire three shots at Bell. One of the bullets (either a stray shot or ricochet) accidentally hits Jamal in the head, killing him instantly. Kendra and Scott are devastated, and Stokes gives them a moment, and they can only wail in agony. In the final scene, Scott exclaims “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” either due to his heart murmur or possibly alluding to the killing of Eric Garner.