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Review: 'American Skin' explores race, policing and loss

January 14, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 61.5%. 2 min read.

"American Skin" touches on raw nerves in the midst of a chaotic historical moment, which is ultimately the whole point. Following his 2016 feature debut "The Birth of a Nation," writer-director-star Nate Parker seeks to bore into the issues surrounding policing and Black America, through a provocative but flawed dramatic vehicle that strains against its confining central device.

(CNN)"American Skin" touches on raw nerves in the midst of a chaotic historical moment, which is ultimately the whole point.

Following his 2016 feature debut "The Birth of a Nation," writer-director-star Nate Parker seeks to bore into the issues surrounding policing and Black America, through a provocative but flawed dramatic vehicle that strains against its confining central device.

That device involves presenting the movie through the lens of a student filmmaker, Jordin (Shane Paul McGhie), who is following up on the police killing of a 14-year-old African-American boy during a traffic stop a year earlier.

Jordin has come to interview the boy's father, Lincoln Jefferson (Parker), a Marine veteran grieving his son's loss.

The main problems reside in Parker's script, which saddles certain characters -- most notably the police officers involved -- with stilted, heavy-handed dialogue.

"American Skin" fares better in capturing Lincoln's pain, having lost his son despite all his warnings and admonitions reflecting the fears that Black parents harbor.

In some respects "American Skin" plays like a more urgent modern-day companion to "Birth of a Nation," which chronicled Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion.

Among recent movies it also recalls "American Son," a Netflix adaptation of the stage play about a Black mother in a police station waiting for an update about her child.

"American Skin" has waited a long time to see the light of day, having premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2019.

The delay has not made the movie any less timely -- while adding distance to a personal controversy involving Parker that drew attention when "Birth of a Nation" was released.

Parker's stated goal in the production notes is to "challenge systems of oppression by promoting a much-needed dialogue between law enforcement and community members of color. "

Trying to spur such conversations can be a messy way to make a movie, and it's not easy unwinding the film's ambition from its merits.

"American Skin" is worth seeing, for the issues Parker seeks to address, even if it only partially works in leaving a mark.

"American Skin" premieres on demand on Jan. 15.

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