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Based on the Broadway play of the same name, the 2019 film follows a black mother and white father as they desperately look for their 18-year-old son when he doesn’t come home.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare of wondering where your teenage kid is with the added layer, the added complexity, that so many of us are understanding now of being a black parent and knowing that your kid isn’t just up against knucklehead adolescent behavior, but up against systems of, you know, racist institutions that put your kid’s life at risk,” Washington explained of the film.
“The film is really so close to my heart,” she said. “Because there’s been a huge resurgence of people watching it and saying, ‘Oh, now I get it’ or ‘I have so many more questions,’ we’re going to do a live tweet.”
The Twitter event will take place on Thursday, June 12. The watch live event will be followed by an Instagram Live conversation between Washington and African American Policy Forum founder Kimberle Crenshaw, who helped create the Say Her Name campaign. The actress explained that the campaign focuses “on the mothers and the loved ones of women who have been killed by police officers.”
“Kimberle and I are gonna do a discussion about American Son, talk about how people can be part of the solution [and] raise money for AAPF and Say Her Name,” she said. The discussion will also educate viewers on the characters in the film including the titular son, as well as “a lot of the women that haven’t been mentioned” like Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, Washington said.
Earlier in the appearance, Washington gave suggestions on how to teach kids about racism.
Noting that white privilege allows people to learn about racism, she said that black families “don’t have the privilege of ignoring what’s going on and pretending that it’s not happening.”
“Kids are introduced to race at Black History Month or in the context of change makers like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we start to introduce the idea of race with a black history that begins before teaching kids about what black people were told they couldn’t do.”
Washington shared that she wants kids to learn about Maasai warriors, the kingdoms of Ghana, Queen Nefertiti and the Egyptian pyramids.
The actress said it’s important to teach kids that “black history and black people were a lot of things before segregation and Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement so that we understand the beautiful complexity and elegance and richness of black history” before the community had to fight for equal rights.
Speaking about the recent protests, Washington said that she wasn’t surprised that so many people have showed up to support the black community. “It fills me with so much hope and encouragement,” she said. “I feel like we as a nation, and as a world in some ways, we’re just done having our governments work in ways that don’t reflect our values.”
“I think for a long time some people thought that you could just be a passenger in this train called democracy, but that’s not how it works,” she added. “A democracy works if we all show up and we all express our values, whether it’s voting or in the streets protesting.”
Washington and Kimmel both spoke about giving speeches during the Dear Class of 2020 virtual graduation ceremony. Both the actress and ABC late-night host wrote and filmed their speeches before the protests started.
While Kimmel told the graduates to not “show up late with coffee in your hand,” Washington shared a more inspirational message to “create your new normal.”
She said that she was “freaked out” because she wrote her speech before the protests, though added that her message was still “apropos.”
“Then like a week ago, President Obama put a post up about all the protests saying those words,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, now everybody’s gonna think that I just stole the president’s Twitter and turned it into a commencement address. That sucks.'”
“On a lot of levels, whether we’re dealing with the pandemic of racism or the pandemic of COVID, we are in the moment of a new normal,” she added. “We cannot go backwards. We have to figure out how to take better care of each other going forward.”
Watch Washington’s full appearance below.
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