Olivia Pope gets things done. Just flat out figures it out. We are used to seeing Liv figure it out, direct the gladiators, and stride off having accomplished the seemingly impossible. But don’t get it twisted. Kerry Washington is a Black female actress. She is not Olivia Pope.
Moreover, Kerry is not Kendra “Kenny” Ellis-Connor either, the lead character of the Netflix cinematic adaption of the stage play “American Son”. A Black woman professional, indeed, she is a college professor. Married to Scott Connor, a White man who is an FBI agent, played by Steven Pasquale, from whom she is separated, and when they are together, it is clear they will not be getting back together.
Set early, early in the morning around 3a.m. on a rainy night in south Florida, not too far from Miami. Jamal is the unseen son of the couple. Jamal is missing. He didn’t come home and Kenny is totally distraught.
All the action in this four person performance is set in the waiting room of the local police station. That’s the first sign this is not the average Black drama. Mama is not welcomed to occupy the local police station in the middle of the night, complaining to a nervous officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan), who is trying his best to be empathic, diplomatic, i.e. not your average White police officer confronting a Black woman who won’t shut up and who is constantly challenging your authority.
Like a character in “Waiting For Godot”, officer Larkin can only keep repeating that everything will get smoothed out when Lieutenant John Stokes (Eugene Lee) arrives for his eight a.m. shift. By the time Stokes arrives, it’s already too late. And then, surprise, surprise, he is Black. A tough, older Black cop who has not only been around the block a couple of times, looks (and sounds) like he has actually been to war in Viet Nam. He’s grumpy. No nonsense. And clearly in charge.
“American Son” is a film version of an original Broadway play written by Christopher Demos-Brown. The cast for the film is the same as the cast from the stage play. Director Kenny Leon does his best to shoot the one-set, four-character drama as though it were a dynamic movie.
Regardless of the limitations of transferring a stage play to the tv screen, the movie has a point to make. I like the ending because it avoids the usual and is much closer to daily reality.
If you have access to Netflix, “American Son” is worth seeing. Especially to contrast Kerry playing Olivia against Kerry playing Kenny. Check it out.