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American Son: Race, Policing, and Identity

Professor India Thusi

“I felt because it was such an important play with so much to say and which really throws a lot of issues at you, we should give people a tool to deal with it.”

So said Kerry Washington in an interview with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show as she discussed her acclaimed Broadway play, American Son.

The play, written by Christopher Demos-Brown, stars Washington and Steven Pasquale as a mixed-race couple desperate for answers about the disappearance of their son Jamal following a traffic stop in Florida.

The play was subsequently adapted for film by Netflix.

The tool Washington refers to is a discussion guide, included in every performance program, that was written by California Western’s Professor India Thusi on behalf of the Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communications lab.

The guide, which was positively received by theater-goers, delves into the tensions surrounding implicit bias, police-community relations, and families. It explores how personal the incidents of police violence are and how they impact family dynamics. It also explores the devastation to both the community and the individual family members involved.

Thusi, the Opportunity Agenda’s Robert L. Carter Legal Fellow, was asked to write the discussion guide due to her expertise in criminal justice policy and policing. Throughout her legal career, Thusi has been involved in social justice work in a variety of ways. As well as her advocacy work with the Opportunity Agenda, she has worked as a civil rights lawyer with the ACLU and as a Co-Chair of the Academics Committee of the ABA Criminal Justice Section.

“The purpose of the guide was to facilitate conversations around race and policing for audiences that would view the Broadway play and the subsequent Netflix film,” explains Thusi.

“I wanted the guide to begin a dialogue about these challenging topics, to provide resources to organizations working on these issues, and to educate the audience about this really important work.”

The guide was used after several showings to facilitate a discussion that the Opportunity Agenda helped organize with Washington’s participation.

“My primary goal was to make this material acceptable, connect it to the broader themes around race and policing, and also help people who have these conversations facilitate an open dialogue about these important issues,” says Thusi.

To learn more about the American Son Discussion Guide authored by Professor Thusi, click here.