Who Is the Protagonist in American History X?

American History X is a powerful film that explores the themes of racism, hate, redemption, and change. The movie revolves around the life of Derek Vinyard, a former neo-Nazi skinhead who was imprisoned for killing two black men. The film portrays his journey through his own eyes as he tries to leave behind his past and become a better person.

But who is the real protagonist in American History X? Is it Derek himself or someone else? Let’s find out.

The Role of Derek Vinyard

Derek Vinyard, played by Edward Norton, is undoubtedly the central character of American History X. He is introduced to us as a young man who is deeply influenced by his father’s racist beliefs and becomes involved with a neo-Nazi group. His hatred for people of color intensifies after his father’s death, leading him to commit a brutal murder that lands him in prison.

In prison, Derek’s eyes are opened to the reality of racial segregation and violence. He forms an unlikely friendship with an African-American inmate named Lamont (played by Guy Torry), which challenges his beliefs and forces him to confront his own prejudices.

Derek’s transformation from a hateful bigot to a reformed individual is at the core of the movie’s plot. We see him struggle with his past actions and try to make amends with those he has hurt before.

The Role of Danny Vinyard

Although Derek is the primary focus of American History X, his younger brother Danny (played by Edward Furlong) also plays an important role in the story. Danny looks up to Derek and idolizes him for his racist views. He admires his brother’s strength and conviction but fails to see how these views are hurting others around them.

Danny serves as the narrator of the film, providing us with insights into their family dynamics and their community’s racial tension. Through his eyes, we see how Derek’s actions have affected their family and those around them.

The Real Protagonist

While Derek and Danny are the most prominent characters in American History X, it can be argued that the real protagonist of the movie is change itself. The film explores how racism and hate can lead to destruction and how individuals can overcome their prejudices and work towards a better future.

Through Derek’s journey, we see that change is not easy. It requires introspection, education, and a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths. However, it is ultimately rewarding as it allows us to grow as individuals and live in a more inclusive society.


In conclusion, American History X presents us with an intense portrayal of racism and its consequences. While Derek Vinyard is undoubtedly the central character of the film, his brother Danny serves as an important narrator who guides us through their story.

However, it is change itself that emerges as the true protagonist of the movie. The film shows us that change can be difficult but ultimately leads to redemption and growth.