Is American History X Black and White?

The Plot of American History X

American History X is a 1998 drama film directed by Tony Kaye and starring Edward Norton. The film is set in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, where Derek Vinyard (played by Edward Norton) is a former neo-Nazi who tries to prevent his younger brother, Danny (played by Edward Furlong), from following in his footsteps.

The movie explores themes such as racism, redemption, and the consequences of extremist ideologies. As the story unfolds, we see how Derek’s experiences in prison change his views on race and how he tries to undo the damage he caused in the past.

The Use of Black and White Imagery

One of the most striking visual elements in American History X is the use of black and white imagery. The film alternates between color scenes that take place in the present day and black and white scenes that depict Derek’s past as a neo-Nazi.

The black and white scenes are meant to convey a sense of nostalgia for a time when Derek was more certain of his beliefs. They also serve as a reminder of the stark contrast between Derek’s former life as a white supremacist and his current attempts at redemption.

The Symbolism of Color

While American History X uses black and white imagery to great effect, it also makes use of color symbolism throughout the film. For example, in one scene, Danny wears a green shirt while playing basketball with his friends. This green shirt serves as a symbol of hope and innocence, contrasting with the dark ideologies that surround him.

Similarly, when Derek begins to question his beliefs about race while in prison, he starts reading books with colorful covers. These books represent new ideas that challenge his worldview and ultimately lead him down a path towards redemption.


In conclusion, while American History X does make use of black and white imagery, it is not a black and white film in terms of its themes and message. The movie explores complex issues such as racism, redemption, and the consequences of extremist ideologies.

By using visual elements like black and white imagery and color symbolism, the film adds layers of meaning to its story and characters. Ultimately, American History X is a powerful exploration of the human capacity for change and growth in the face of adversity.