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Racism remains one of the historical challenges of the world. It is a multidimensional dilemma that exists in different aspects of existence. Various rhetorical artifacts have tried to deal with the problem of bigotry, with films being among the rhetorical methods that capture racism in its various dimensions. This essay focuses on the film “American History X,” created by Tony Kaye and published in 1998. The rhetoric that is the director analyzes bigotry from the point of view of the survivors of racism. This paper suggests that the director has effectively developed a dual perspective of bigotry, which offers the viewer a greater understanding of or prejudice, and how to solve it as a social issue.
This paper argues that the director successfully develops a dual view of racism, that gives the audience a broader understanding or racism and how to overcome it as a social problem.

This paper has three major parts. First is the description of the film “American History X” as a rhetorical artifact. The second part entails the analysis of how director Kaye passes his message through the film. The third part of the paper is an evaluation of the level to which director Kaye achieves the desired outcome of the film “American History X” as a rhetorical artifact.

A description of the film “American History X”

Scholars view racism to be one of the inherent shortcomings that humans possess (Bloodsworth-Lugo & Flory, 2013). The director, therefore, seeks to add his voice to this problem by analyzing racism from a perspective of individuals who propagate this form of social problem. According to Buehrer (2004), racism is a historical problem that continues to affect different communities across the globe in different ways. Some of the infamous incidents of racism include Hitler’s violence towards Jews and the operations of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States of America.

The goal of director Kaye in the film American History X is helping the society visualize racism as a concept and how it affects people on an individual basis. The director also intends to offer a deeper understanding of racism, by looking into the mindset of the individuals who propagate racism. Through the film, the director seeks to bring forth the ideological aspects that breed racial hate and segregation, while showing how such hatred can be overcome. The director has the overall goal of teaching how a civilized society can stay in harmony without the kind of hate propagated by racism.

The film follows the lives of two brothers Derek and Danny Vinyard, who are ordinary students growing up in a multicultural setting in California. The director portrays some events that transform the students into members of a Neo-Nazi gang. The director organizes the film to represent racism as a phenomenon that grows, as opposed to being inborn. It traces the transformation of an ordinary student into a leader of a Neo-Nazi gang. The film later traces the journey of transformation of the main protagonist, Derek, after his experiences in prison. It is clear that the director targets communities living in multicultural settings. Kaye attempts to send a message of sobriety, with people urged to examine their prejudicial beliefs that breed racism.

Analysis of the rhetoric in the film “American History X”

Director Kaye presents this film to appeal to ethics, emotion, and logic. The ethos of the film is seen through the graphic description of the actions that result from racism. Here, the director does not hold back in describing issues such as violence and murder that are meted out to various characters. Through this form of portrayal, the audience can visualize and virtually experience the brutality and hatred arising racism. Through the graphic presentation of violence, language, and sheer horror, the director, appeals to the emotions of the audience (Prorokova, 2015).

The director seeks to appeal to the morals of the audience, by challenging the basis upon which individuals hate each other due to race. In the film, Derek develops the hate for African Americans since an African American gang killed his father. In the process of revenging the death of his father, he chooses the path of hatred. After killing two African Americans and being imprisoned, he is later saved by an African American. The moral lesson the director seeks to push here is that of tolerance (Buehrer, 2004). Kaye urges his audience to understand each other, as opposed to developing hatred based on race. Besides, the audience is dissuaded from discriminatory behavior, since a person may at one time require help from a person of a different race.

In my view, the director excels in appealing to the logic of its audience. Throughout the film, various questions that require extensive reasoning are raised. First is the problem of whether exclusively associating with individuals from one’s race is beneficial. During his early days in prison, Derek links up with other skinheads, but the relationship does not last long. They soon betray him, forcing him to befriend an African American. It is the latter friendship that makes him survive in prison.

Another question that the director raises and one that appeals to logic Is that of why people engage in racism. This is realized through the portrayal of the factors that breed hatred for African Americans within Derek and his brother. Through Derek, the fears that the society, and primarily white have regarding African Americans become apparent. Besides, the director shows how parents play a significant role in influencing the minds of their children to be racist. Such logical questions foster the initiation of dialogues and discussions that help in dealing with racism.

Evaluation of director Kaye’s rhetoric

Unlike other films that exclusively focus on the impact of racism on the victims, American History X stands out by offering the perspectives of both the oppressors and the victims (Bloodsworth-Lugo & Flory, 2013). This approach, therefore, allows the director to conclusively deal with the issue of racism from a broader perspective. The director succeeds in portraying racism as a journey; from its roots, portrayal and the hope for redemption of the racists. The director also manages to retain his focus on bigotry and hatred, as opposed to pointing fingers and judging whether a character is wrong or not. The outcome here is that the audience remains focussed on racial hate as the main subject as opposed.

Despite the success realized by this film, the director has received criticism in regards to the development of specific characters. The African American characters are presented as witless criminals, whose actions drive Derek and his family into being racist (Prorokova, 2015). Overall, the film can be judged to have successfully communicated the director’s wishes. The public response was reasonable, given the awards and the nominations the film received. According to (n.d) won an Oscar while being nominated for awards such as the Circuit Community Awards and the Academy Awards. Such success indicates that the public resonated and responded to the director’s rhetoric.


The main argument of this paper was that the director successfully develops a dual view of racism, which gives the audience a broader understanding or racism and how to overcome it as a social problem. By allowing the racists to air their race-based fears, the audience develops a better understanding of racism and shows the necessity of treating each other equally irrespective of their race.


Bloodsworth-Lugo, M. K., & Flory, D. (2013). Race, Philosophy, and Film. New York: Routledge.

Buehrer, D. (2004). American History X, Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and the psychological intersections of race, class, and place in contemporary America. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 25(1-2), 18-24.

imdb. (n.d). American History X (1998). Retrieved from

Prorokova, T. (2015). Film Review: Racism in American History X. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 25(4), 538-544.

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