After seven seasons of playing Olivia Pope on Scandal, Kerry Washington returned to the Broadway stage as a producer and leading actor in Christopher Demos-Brown’s American Son; but for audiences who missed her star turn in the drama, a film adaptation of the acclaimed play will begin streaming on Netflix November 1.
Ahead of the release, Washington joined The Today Show’s Hoda Kotb to talk about what she has called the most challenging role of her career. “This project is so meaningful to me. It's so important; it's like my baby,” Washington said in the interview below. American Son focuses on Kendra, the black mother of an interracial teenager who has gone missing, as she desperately awaits news in a Miami police station.
“I'm balancing two threads of this character. One: to bring Kendra to life. I'm thinking a lot about being the mother of black children and what it means to raise kids of color and the complexity of being. Any time you become a mom it's such an act of vulnerability but that's complicated when you are the mother of a kid of color because the systems are at work to really put your kid in a more dangerous situation. And then: I was also so focused on what's happening in this country right now and what's been happening. From Emmett Till to Philando Castile. We've had so many victims of state-sanctioned violence in the black community, and holding onto all of that fear and pain and bringing it to life for this production was really a task.”
Washington and the team behind American Son collaborated with OpportunityAgenda.org to create a discussion guide to talk about the issues that arise in the film, as well. “So much of what I think the piece is about is unconscious bias,” she said. “Everybody does it: my character does it, the white cop does it. We're all operating on our own prejudices and assumptions. And I think it's one of the things that's so smart about the piece. Everybody who watches it has a moment where you feel like you see yourself and you recognize your own belief system, but you also get surprised by taking the time to hear how somebody else thinks.”
In the vein of hearing from people with all viewpoints, Washington shared her phone number (through Community.com) with the public, saying she hoped people would text her personally to open a dialogue. As she said, “I’m always looking for ways to feel like I'm staying connected.”