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Derek Vinyard was the main character of the movie American History X although he arguably manages to redeem himself - the film focuses on Derek's past and the consequences of his actions both in the present and the potential future.
He was portrayed by Edward Norton, who received an Academy Award nomination for his performance in the film.
Derek Vinyard was originally portrayed as a violent White supremacist and a proud supporter of a dark underbelly of American society ruled over by neo-Nazi groups - his hatred for other races climaxed in the now famous scene in which he was woken up by his younger brother, Danny, who informed him that two black guys are breaking into his truck; the truck his father gave him.
Derek loads up his Ruger P94 pistol and goes downstairs, where he recognizes the two as some thugs he beat in a game of basketball earlier. Derek also realizes that one is armed with a gun. Derek quietly turns the doorknob and kicks the door open, shooting the armed one several times in the chest. When the other tries to run away, Derek shoots him as well.
The getaway car arrives and Derek unloads his gun into it as it drives off. He then releases the slide of the empty pistol (making it sound like he had reloaded) and then holds the gun to the surviving gang member's head. He orders him to put his teeth on the curb. Not wanting to die, he does so.
Derek then promptly stomps on his head, smashing his teeth and splitting his head open. This kills him. Derek spits on the body before the police arrive, and he is arrested. He is soon found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and sentenced to three years in prison.
While in prison, Derek's path to redemption begins, and although he remained racist, he eventually befriended Lamont, an African-American inmate who had to serve six years for stealing a television set and assault on a policeman he dropped it on, and he (somewhat ironically) would prove to be one of Derek's only true allies during his stay in prison: this friendship would put Derek at odds with the Aryan Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi prison syndicate, and it resulted in him being raped as a form of punishment.
After leaving prison Derek tried to return to normal life but found himself continually battling his past as he tried to distance himself from his violent past - including a confrontation with his brother Danny, however after Derek explained to Danny why he had changed (including the rape) Danny starts to understand.
However, the story ends in tragedy when Danny is shot by a black student he had been in conflict with and the film ends with Derek holding his dead brother - what happens next is left to speculation.
- In an early draft of the film, after the death of his brother, Derek shaves his head again, implying he had once again become a Neo-Nazi. Edward Norton objected to this, claiming that the whole theme of the film is that hatred solves nothing.