‘American Son’ Star Kerry Washington On Fear and Navigating Spaces While Black

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Nov 04, 2019

Kerry Washington, who took on the dramatic role of Kendra Scott Ellis—mother of an 18-year-old boy who goes missing after an altercation with Miami police—in the Broadway play “American Son,” debuted the story to a larger audience on November 1 when it premiered as a film on Netflix.

For Washington, who produced both the play and the film, the tense 90 minutes that her character spends in the lobby of a police precinct desperately looking for her son are both uncomfortable and crucial. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I was drawn to ‘American Son,’ because you really see how challenging it is for us as parents of Black children to help our kids find a way in the world, to know how loved they are in a world that has institutional practices that make them feel less than,” Kerry said in a video interview with Variety published on Sunday (November 3). “But that’s my goal as a mom … to help them know the truth of the world that they live in, but to also know the truth of who they are.”

According to the actress, the fear of possible police violence against her family is ever-present. “We took a road trip recently as a family, and I was in one car and my dad was driving another car and he was like, ‘Oh, I have to go back and get my ID,’ because the thought of him getting caught in a car without the proper ID terrifies him, at 80 years old,” Washington recalled. “He is a distinguished man of an age who knows that being, walking in the world with brown skin puts him in danger in a different kind of way. I think about my kids driving, my husband driving. It’s real. I haven’t figured out exactly how to navigate all of this as a parent.”

Washington feels intimately connected to her charecter in “American Son.” “I understood her so clearly,” she told Variety. “I’ve been that Black woman who’s having big feelings in an appropriate moment and being stereotyped to be something other. And I wanted to bring her to our canon. I wanted to embody her [because]—even though I know her and I’ve been her—I hadn’t seen her.”   

Watch the interview below: