Scratching the cinematic surface with closer examination, the lawlessness in Venice Beach, California, as it is depicted in ‘American History X’, has proven to be a vivid metaphor for the people’s history broadly beyond the United States. A hard-fought competitive environment, defamation rhetoric towards rivals, racial, religious, and social intolerance on one level and thought for the family, a sense of social belonging, rehabilitation, and liabilities on the other. The principal characters and DEREK VINYARD notably were to become archetypes, mirroring the biblical myths and stories of ancient literature, overinflated behavioral patterns of the modern society, shattered by prejudices and dividing lines. Looking broadly back from a distance of two decades since the premiere, Derek Vinyard has got on board of the public consciousness well beyond his fictional cinematic nature.  

American History X movie explained

Derek Vinyard, a young man in his early twentieth, grinningly takes the voiced attributing to such archaism as Ku Klux Klan, relatedly overemphasizing a swastika tattoo on his chest. The bottom line is that Derek finds a little credence in the Nazi ideology as well as later his young brother Danny, in disregard of wall-posters and reading ‘Mein Kampf’. The overstressing of one’s radical attribution serves as a means to make his presence known: at the basketball field, at the table in face of mother’s gallant, or within a prison yard. Once devastated with a personal tragedy (a loss of a father), Derek came under the sway of an experienced persuader (Cameron), who used to fulfill one’s deformed ambitions for an account of insulted youth of his neighborhood. The law enforcement authorities come across Vinyard as no more than an antisocial archetype, which deeds say more than any words. Along with that conventional unidirectional perception, Dr. Robert Sweeney, who had himself lived through a period of desolation and hatred, appreciates Derek as one of his most talented pupils: the one, who may have the guts to reshape himself and to have a voice over the others, as Sweeney himself. The headmaster is poised to take Derek out of prison, giving him a second chance: a privilege previously being washed-handed by Murray. In parallel with his renewed connection with Derek, Dr. Sweeney endeavors not to lose Danny Vinyard in a way he had allowed with his older brother. 

None of them are all right, Danny.

They’re all a bunch of fucking freeloaders.

“We don’t know them, we don’t want to know them,

they’re the fucking enemy.” 

Derek Vinyard American History X

As affected, the brilliant pupil Derek, who had used to honor teachers and experimental literature, the best basketball player in the neighborhood, made his way to a leader of a nationalistic clique and a convicted murderer. In this vein, one should pay attention to a short sequence within Cameron’s car, with Derek ready to take over the leadership of a group of local young men, insulted in one way or another. At that point in time forged with distorted rhetoric of hatred, Vineyard carries a violently deformed scheme of things toward a group of coevals, who regard Derek as their ‘prince’. The offshoots of unwealthy families, self-desolated in personal tragedies, are now cultivated with a crooked alternative to their mediocre life: placing blame on supposed enemies. Like generations before them, this dozen of young men prefer to shift the responsibility for their own lives to others, friends or enemies. They accuse someone else and not themselves for a low-wage job, the outlook of the neighborhood, and the crime rate: the latter a group provokes in the first hand by harassing a store. Later on, Derek would challenge his younger brother to steer away from Seth, whose life would hardly push boundaries of insectology, fast food, and cliched rhetoric. Seth is also neglected by Cameron. 

There’s nothing funny going on here.

This is about your life and mine. 

It’s about decent, hard working Americans falling through the cracks. 

Derek Vinyard and Cameron: character analysis

Derek Vinyard as a 'prince': Character analysis

As is commonly known, the most severe negative emotions are being cultivated with a sense of jeopardy and danger, and Derek voices out a new actuality for his followers, which had been early imposed upon himself. Nothing gives rise to anxiety and concern more than a restless compulsive idea about the enemies around. Emotions are generally brought into poor correlation with the facts, therefore all but every Derek’s demagogic insult is textured of empty shell prejudices. In a scene within a parking lot (prior to an assault on the store) the ‘Prince’ voices yellow-paged figures on millions of immigrants and billions of dollars of social benefits. He urges the group to open eyes and to look over the enemies, who used to rape the country, they all (Derek and his followers) love. Looking further forward to a wisdom-like question of Dr. Sweeney: ‘HAS ANYTHING YOU’VE DONE MADE YOUR LIFE BETTER?’, none of the present young men including Derek made something that made this country or their lives better. All while stigmatizing the government for a standstill, Vinyard pushes for action: with violence and intolerance instead of self-improvement and endeavor to make a state a better place. With an assault on the night store, Derek makes himself an enemy of the state, the one he used to see in the others around his own clique. 

Derek Vinyard American History X explained

In the midst of a family dinner, Derek expatiates on born villainy and depravity of the other people, all while he expresses humiliation and even harassment toward closest people in one’s life. As early as being a convicted felon, Vinyard would get wise to the fact violence provokes violence. The disturbing sense of constant anxiety among this radical clique of a young generation is being cultivated with extremities. The ‘NON OF THEM ARE ALL RIGHT’ phrase dramatizes the lack of rationality and obvious closed-mindedness. Danny Vinyard, another talented pupil, and a bright-headed young man are conscious of the actuality, that the world is not rudely divided into ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’. At the same time, a wanting to follow the steps of his elder brother and being a part of his social environment necessitated Danny to voice ideas he does not believe in. He does not echo the rhetoric of his father, Derek, or Cameron on the relation between unwealthy living conditions and the ‘others’: Danny takes care of his mother and sisters. In wider meaning, even the monochromatic nature of every retrospective scene of ‘American History X’ accentuates the fact that the world around us mostly exists in tones of grey, beyond the widely disputed ‘black’ or ‘white’ or ‘good’ or ‘wrong’

Dr. Robert Sweeney

Danny Vinyard American History X

Finding himself in custody, Derek at first follows his adopted behavioral pattern. He makes a claim about himself with a swastika tattoo and joins the ranks of a prison entourage. Derek’s landscape of things and orienteers is being shattered when the racial foundations he had believed were given away to make some money. The so-called ‘friends’ and ‘us’ come to be enemies and haters who harass Derek with humiliating maiming injuries. The adhering of the mob mentality ultimately brings the main character to a restless dilemma and an inner conflict. Either you join us or everyone against you and us above all. Later on, Derek’s ex-girlfriend Stacey cauterizes her ex-lover and ‘prince’ as a traitor and an enemy: Stacy renounces an idea to leave the neighborhood and start a new life. The former mentor Cameron unveils his indeed nature as a greedy puppet-master, who used to rake up the fire with the hands of insulted young men. The old man sets sights on Danny Vinyard as a heritor of Derek’s ‘mission’. The day-old friend Seth points a gun at Derek in a pursuit to kill a man, he had been devoted to. Along with that, Vinyard expresses anything but weakness or inactivity: he sandbags the former tutor to take a younger brother out of this environment. 

That’s why you have to stay open

Right now, your anger is consuming you

Your anger is shutting down the brain. 

American History X movie explained

Derek Vinyard

Derek now sees reason in the fact that the corrupted scheme of things he was cultivated by his father and Cameron in fact dealt poorly with the particular race or skin color or passport registration. It has always been about belonging to one or another social group regardless of its system of coordinates and principles. Either you follow the leader and hate people announces as the enemies or you become a victim yourself, particularly by the hands of those you tend to consider friends. LAMONT, Derek’s associate at the prison laundry was convicted severely than Derek for a crime of much less criminal significance: another bottom line to Vinyard’s prejudices, who used to demagogue on justice. Lamont comes to be a friend, whose humor and neighborliness tear Derek’s racial cliches to pieces. As the story goes on, Vinyard appreciates the fact it was Lamont who saved him from being killed in prison. Dr; Sweeney turns out to be the only man from the outside world apart from the family, who offers his helping hand to Derek and even forwarded an early release. As the prison curtain is drawn, Derek Vinyard is fully mindful of the fact that his family: his mother, young brother, and two sisters matter the most for him in the whole world. He is ready to reshape himself from scratch for his close ones. One of the unevindent clues to Derek’s shift is to be found in his decision not to get shaved anymore. 

Family matters the most: American History X

The Vinyard family



Examining the matter of the environmental dominance, parenting, and cultivation of personality, the ‘American History X’ does a view of the years-long and eventful makeover of the main character. Chronologically in the earliest scene at a family table, a young man Derek expresses a sincere delight in his own studying experience at school. Being open to something new, this intellectual boy showcases no signs of hatred, social frustration, or racial intolerance. He enthusiastically shares his thoughts on Dr. Sweeney and the educational concepts with his father, the household patriarch of the Vinyard family. This evident sequence reveals the dominant weight of Vinyard senior as a sovereign authority at that time. The parent speaks up his prejudices and cultivates a grain of doubt in the heads of both his sons. In a wider sense, the Father ruins Derek’s values and his motivational mindset

All this stuff about making everything equal. It’s not that simple. 

You gotta question these things, Derek.

 You gotta look at the whole picture 


The Vinyard senior (Father) discourses upon a triumph of the ‘racial’ origin over a talent, thus neglecting literature according to this prejudice. Apparently, the man himself finds no pleasure and sense in reading books, though his critics of the literature bear poor equity and credibility beyond this family table. In all likelihood, Vinyard senior antagonize the authority of Dr. Sweeney, a man with two academic degrees on mere a color of one’s skin. The household patriarch explicitly judges that he as a fireman gets the short straw in virtue of this ‘forcing the tolerance through’. The voiced example of testing the professional competency among the firemen loses all its credibility while the man ends up with humiliation toward ‘them’. This short yet significantly important sequence at the family dinner gives a demonstration of a single episode of such kind, denouncing Derek’s and Danny’s openness to education. With the death of a father, Derek would blame the whole world around himself, his entourage, and family and voice the previously cultivated matter of things on the camera. On second thought, he has always praised the authority of the police and made no resisting arrest and going to jail, bearing no regrets on committing the crime. It must be said, unlikely for his father to be proud of what his son has become and done. 

The Vinyard Senior

In the aftermath of the father’s death, Derek’s life is being dramatically alternated in contrast to a talented pupil and a basketball star. His long-life paradigm of values is to be shifted with a new actuality of hatred and social frustration. It was apparently this very period in his life on the heels of the TV reporting that Derek came under a manipulative mentorship of Cameron. The new tutor substitutes for the vanishing authority of a dead father and Dr. Sweeney to infiltrate his ‘prince’ with a new ideology. As time goes, it is Derek who takes the patronage over other young men: insulted youth from Venice Beach. He is now an undisputed leader himself, a messiah to lead these frustrated youth toward the hatred and trespassing the law. In this respect, his relations with Stacey were based not so much on love as on following the made image of a leader, indeed damaging for Vinyard himself. Once in state prison, Derek sets aside the local group, and his system of values once against is fated to devastate. At this breaking point Dr. Sweeney, a former example of educational admiration for Derek,  submits a way to transformation. The headmaster himself did break off the vicious circle years ago and Derek would not say an abusive word on Sweeney. 

Sweeney is a good teacher. You can learn from him 

So don’t fuck it up with small-fry shit like that.

You gotta be smarter than that. 

Derek Vinyard and being smarter than prejudicesOBEDIENCE TO AUTHORITY: American history X

As for DANNY VINYARD, he has always been a victim of idolizing a single man: his brother. While the family dinner scene gives a clue on the fact that the Father frustrated with both his sons, Danny always tries to catch sight of Derek’s reaction: his approval or condemnation. In a strict sense, Danny has always followed exclusively Derek regardless of the social environment. He keeps up with Seth on the bare account of the fact that his brother used to do this prior to the prison. Danny spends his time next to Cameron to impress Derek, though he finds no core credibility in the rhetoric of hatred. He intellectualized the ‘Mein Kampf’ of Hitler expressing protest particularly against Murray, the man had been looked down upon by Derek. Along with all that, their Mother Doris loses her health and a will to live after the death of her husband and a loss of connection with Derek. Davina is meant to be one among the few characters (next to Sweeney) who express admiration in Derek’s transformation after prison. 

Danny Vinyard and OBEDIENCE TO AUTHORITy of his brother

Derek and Danny Vinyards character analysis

In the sequence with Derek killing the robbers outside the house, Danny is screaming with frustration in his eyes, perceiving the occurrence as horrible even through the prism of his admirable brother. With the institutional confinement of the elder brother, Danny loses a guiding star in a way that Derek had experienced after the death of their father. Now dropped down by a new Derek, who rejects the former corrupted actuality, Danny loses his nerve, yet only to hear the full version of the story. Apart from his social environment and behavior at school, the boy used to take care of his sisters and a mother and did not reject Sweeney completely even before Derek’s appeal. In a dramatic sense, it is an admiration of his brother, his feigned confidence would cost Danny his life on the back of his doings at the basketball field and in school. In a moment when Derek finds his younger brother in a puddle of blood, he says ‘What did I do’. The death takes Danny the day after his rejection of the false principles, tearing down the wall posters, and enthusiasm to follow Derek toward new values.