“I worry when I’m driving. I worry when my 80-year-old father is driving,” Washington told Variety at the Toronto Film Festival Studio presented by AT&T, addressing the film’s themes of racial profiling, police brutality and the tensions around the two in today’s world.
“We actually took a road trip recently as a family and I was in one car, my dad was driving another car. And he was like, ‘Oh I have to go back and get my ID,’ because the thought of him getting caught in car without the proper ID terrifies him at 80-years-old,” she recalled.”
“He’s not like a ‘thuggish’ teenager,'” Washington continued, using air-quotes. “He’s a distinguished man of an age who knows that being, walking in the world in brown skin puts him in danger in a different kind of way.”
“I think about my kids driving, my husband [actor Nnamdi Asomugha] driving,” she concluded. “It’s real.”
“American Son” tells the story of Kendra Ellis-Conor (Washington) and Scott (played by Steven Pasquale), a separated, interracial couple who reunite in a Florida police station as they search for answers surrounding the disappearance of their teenage son, who may have died at the hands of police. Washington originated the role on Broadway in November 2018, playing the agonized mother onstage.
The film adaptation of the play, written by Christopher Demos-Brown and directed by Kenny Leon, will debut Nov. 1 on Netflix. It reunites the creative team and cast (which also stars Jeremy Jordan and Eugene Lee). Washington produced the play alongside Shonda Rhimes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Steve Stoute, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade. She also serves as an executive producer on the film.
Washington says she also relates to the story as a mother. Of how the she plans to explain these sensitive topics to her children, she replied, “I haven’t figured that out.”
“I haven’t figured out how exactly to navigate all of this as a parent,” Washington explained. “I think that’s also one of the reasons I was drawn to ‘American Son,’ because you really see how challenging it is for us as parents of black children to help our kids find a way in the world, to know how loved they are in a world that has institutional practices that make them feel less than.”
“But that’s my goal, right?,” she asked. “I have a lot of goals as a mom. But one of them is to help my kids be safe and feel loved, and know the truth of the world that they live in, but also know the truth of who they are. And they are special. They are not presumed guilty or evil or criminal.”