Never in my entire life did I think I would witness the democracy of our country challenged, nor did I ever think I would see Black and Brown people being used for target practice by police departments nationwide on a daily basis. Nearly every time, the officers in question would be tried, an inquiry done by internal affairs only to witness them, in more cases than not, allowed to return to their home and families, keep their jobs and out on the streets only to do it all over again. What happens to these families when they lose a loved one? Do they want revenge or do they learn to live with the loss?
With American Skin, Lincoln ‘Linc’ Jefferson (Nate Parker) plays a Marine vet trying to mend fences with his son after a divorce. When Kajani (Tony Espinosa) is shot and murdered during a routine traffic stop, the officer is found innocent without standing trial, therefore, Linc takes matters into his own hands addressing a timely age-old issue with cops and the Black community. Opening with body-cam footage from the night in question, it’s a fitting prologue for a film that proves digital video as an invaluable tool in the fight for justice and against police oppression by documenting real time footage without the added advantage of editing. Not to mention that Linc unexpectedly enlists college students to document the unfolding drama, which has a surprisingly tragic ending.
Clocking in at 90 minutes, the screenplay (penned by Parker), can feel a little long and laborious, yet somehow you wish more filmmakers would address this issue head on with no apologies. With impressive casting by Twinkie Byrd, these actors are truthfully and earnestly present for every moment on screen making this film worth the watch. Omari Hardwick (Omar ‘Derwood’ Scott), Theo Rossi (Officer Dominic Reyes), Beau Knapp (Officer Mike Randall), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Bernice), Michael Warren (Melvin) are just a few of the talented ensemble bringing it for every scene and moment. As wonderful as the casting is, it is mostly male heavy. Other than the female police officer during the trial, Linc’s mother and the Kajanii’s Mom during the press conference, their voices are not necessarily impactful to the narrative.
At times, it gives me a Dog Day Afternoon vibe with Black people sans a bank robbery and trans story line. Yet, just like that film, Parker creates a narrative which makes you uncomfortable and contemplate when or if this nightmare between the boys in blue and unarmed Black people will ever witness a day where a life isn’t unnecessarily ripped from this universe. One of the most powerful moments is the precinct trial where after much pressure, the accused cop admits he had been profiling Linc. It made me cringe and angry simultaneously.
American Skin is timely, but I assure you there will be a large faction of critics and viewers that will take issue with the narrative and how it’s constructed. Some will take issue with Nate Parker, as his career is still stinging somewhat from the immediate success and failure of 2016’s ‘The Birth of A Nation.’ That was then and this is now. American Skin, with it’s flaws, make some great points and a message that has been sorely missed in the cinematic landscape from an African American male gaze. A gaze only Spike Lee, John Ridley and John Singleton had not been afraid to approach. A gaze that once again proves these issues are always and sorely needed to be told from a Black point of view without vaseline on the lens to make it feel better. All lives may matter, but Black lives are not respected or revered unless they are sports or entertainment icons. Even then, the gaze is still shifted. Our society needs to be better and do better. After all, at the end of the day we all bleed red and are apart of one race…the human race,