Kerry Washington Looks at History and Black Motherhood in Netflix Film ‘American Son’

In Netflix’s American Son, Kerry Washington plays Kendra Ellis-Connor, a black mother of a black son who’s gone missing.
David Lee/Netflix

American Son, a new film on Netflix, unfolds at a Miami police station, during the middle of the night, where a worried mother frets about her missing son, who is black. She’s frustrated at the lack of information she gets from a police officer, who tells her he understands — he has kids, too.

But Kendra Ellis-Connor, played by Scandal star Kerry Washington, dismisses his grasp at empathy. She’s certain that Officer Paul Larkin, a father to two young daughters, played by Jeremy Jordan, can’t relate.

To her, the threats that fuel her fears for her son’s safety manifest in the officer’s questions that suggest racial profiling: (“Does he have any … scars, tattoos, gold teeth, that kind of stuff? Street names?”)

“It really bugs Kendra that he’s already decided the kind of kid that her son is, just based on the fact that he has a black mom,” Washington said in an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Washington said she signed on to reprise her onstage role in the new film, an adaptation of Christopher Demos-Brown’s Broadway play of the same name in which she starred, in part to help break down audience barriers of entry — not everyone can afford to travel to New York to see a play or shell out money for a Broadway ticket.

“The opportunity to tell the play on screen and basically democratize theater in that way was really exciting for me,” she said.