American History X is a 1998 film starring Edward Norton, Eddie Furlong, and many others. The film takes a look inside the lifestyle of modern day neo-Nazis in the Venice Beach area, but takes a deeper look into a specific set of brothers involved in the White Supremacy gang played by Ed Norton and Edward Furlong. The brothers hit some hard times involving their family that causes their prejudiced ways, but after serving hard time in prison and facing many traumatic ordeals while locked up, Edward Norton's character Derek Vinyard realizes that anger shouldn't be held onto forever and finally sees good in other races. Once he is released from prison he now has to try to get his little brother Danny, played by Furlong, out of the gang that Derek originally formed. The film hits nearly every emotion, but has a really good and interesting outlook on hate, anger, and racism. I definitely recommend it to anyone who has yet to see it.
There are also many strange and interesting facts behind-the-scenes of this film, so let's get started!
1. Joaquin Phoenix Turned Down the Lead Role
Joaquin Phoenix was reportedly offered the role of Derek Vinyard, but declined because of the intense subject matter. Seems like a pretty crazy reason for someone like Joaquin after playing a strung out, wannabe rapper version of himself in the fake documentary, I'm Still Here. After Phoenix passed on the role, Edward Norton was cast without the director's approval.
2. It Was the Director's Debut Film
This was director Tony Kaye's first feature film. His only directing experience was mainly directing music videos and art installations in the '90s. Pretty impressive achievement for a first time filmmaker, but apparently Kaye didn't think so...
3. Tony Kaye Tried Disowning the Film
Kaye was so dissatisfied with the final cut that he tried completely disowning the film all together. He even filed a $200 million lawsuit to have his name legally changed in the credits to Humpty Dumpty when the film was ready for its wide release. He even went as far as flying from Germany where he was filming a commercial to Toronto to cancel a screening of American History X at the Toronto Film Festival. His dissatisfaction was due to a star from the film being involved in editing the final cut of the film. Which brings us to our next fact.
4. Edward Norton Helped Put Together the Final Cut
After director Tony Kaye turned in two of his own final cuts of the film, which took him over a year, the studio was not satisfied. That's when New Line Cinema and Edward Norton came together to collaborate on the final cut that we ended up getting, which was 20 minutes longer than Kaye's. This is what fueled such anger and left a dissatisfied taste in Tony Kaye's mouth. Now we're left to question what Kaye's final cut looked like.
5. The Film Was Loosely Based on a True Story
The film was loosely based on the life of former skinhead Frank Meeink. Frank served three years in prison for charges related to White Supremacist beliefs. He is now a well-known anti-skinhead author and travels giving motivational speeches preaching about his past wicked ways.
6. Edward Norton Turned Down Working with Spielberg
Norton turned down the role of Private Ryan in Steven Spielberg's war epic, Saving Private Ryan just to be in this film. The role was then given to Matt Damon.
7. The Director Didn't See the Full Film Until 2007
It took director Tony Kaye nine years to finally sit down and watch what became of his 1998 debut film American History X.
8. Required Physical Changes for the Cast
American History X required some physical changes for Edward Norton and Eddie Furlong. These changes required them to both shave their heads and for Norton to gain 30 pounds of pure muscle.
9. There Was Only One Oscar Nod for the Film
Edward Norton was nominated for Best Actor at the 1999 Oscars for his performance in American History X, but lost to Roberto Benigni for Life Is Beautiful.
10. An Alternate Ending with an Even Bigger Plot Twist
Now this next one is a bit of a spoiler, so if you have yet to see this film then I recommend you to watch it first.
The original ending that got cut when Ed Norton came into cut the final version was of his character Derek Vinyard looking into the mirror as he shaves his head after his little brother Danny is shot and killed by a black classmate from his school. This ending was to make sense of the endless cycle of violence and tie the otherwise disjointed plot together.