Race, Gender and Media: Crash

This is the first of six weekly blogs for my J375 class, Race, Gender and Media. This week I am reflecting on the movie Crash, written and directed by Paul Haggis.

How is Crash supposed to influence my understanding of race relations in America when I haven’t seen anything to suggest that it accurately reflects America?

John Nolte, Editor-in-Chief of Big Hollywood and a movie reviewer I’ve come to trust, had this to say about Crash (if you’ll pardon the language):

Writer/director Paul Haggis’ “Crash” doesn’t qualify because it’s a piece of cinematic shit — a sanctimonious, superior, strident, melodramatic, over-written, over-acted, smug piece of cinematic shit that looks down on the “little people” of Los Angeles from the morally illiterate, self-righteous tower of the Hollywood Hills and declares us all racists. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost eight years now and the least of this Godforsaken city’s problems are its overwhelmingly decent and tolerant people. When it comes to different cultures living harmoniously together, L.A. is one of the great success stories of history. I’m a white guy married to a Spanish-speaking woman who was born in Mexico living in an overwhelmingly Asian neighborhood just a few block from the mostly Hispanic (and unfairly infamous — thanks Hollywood!) East Los Angeles (where we shop, eat, see movies…) – and I have never ever ever ever once seen or been involved in any kind of racial incident, much less the one’s depicted as an everyday reality in that godawful film.

The only bigot here is Paul Haggis and those who rewarded his deep-seated prejudice against anyone not like his superior self with glowing reviews and Academy Awards (Best Picture!). In the worst way possible, he ruthlessly defamed the good people of this city, an overwhelming majority of whom look out for one another and see only fellow Americans in what is a richly diverse and endlessly interesting melting pot. The everday people in America moved past race a long time ago. The only ones who refuse to move on are like the leftists in Hollywood who remain obsessed with skin color and keeping those divisions wide and raw for political gain.

On the day we watched the first part of the film, a student in class reflected the same perspective. She had lived in Los Angeles, and said that the movie was nothing like what it was like to live in the city. It’s difficult for me to watch Crash as a serious examination of the state of race relations in America. The movie describes itself as “provocative,” but “provocative” doesn’t necessarily equate to “truthful.” Among the questions upon which we were asked to reflect was whether the film was made through the lens of “white” stereotypes (meaning stereotypes accepted by whites). I think the proper question to ask is whether this film was made through the perspective of white guilt.

In the same way Birth of a Nation presented a mindset of the time rather than a reality, Crash serves to educate its audience: we’re all racists, and it’s something we all have to overcome. Of course, the brilliant minds that recognize this truth are really above it all, seeking to show the racist masses the error of their ways. These people get Academy Awards.

One of these people appears to be Debbie A. Owens. Reading “Audience Interpretations of Crash” was an exercise in frustration. Owens stated that:

When reviewing differences in responses based on race, I note that of the respondents who indicated that the film made “no” contribution to their understanding of race or racism were all European American. Due to the starkly intense nature of Crash, one could say that these respondents were in denial and chose not to underscore the primacy of race in the film text.

Meaning that those that follow the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, that choose to define others “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” are merely in denial because their worldview refuses to change after watching a fictional movie that shows people not following Dr. King’s idealism. Or, that they were victims of “enlightened racism,” where “images in popular media work, through their representations of race, to reinforce Whiteness as the cultural norm and subordinate non-White “others.”” They were so reticent to recognize racism in such a “provocative” film because they hadn’t been exposed to enough racism in the past! If only the Cosby family had acted less “white,” then maybe this 6% of Crash viewers would have recognized how racist America really is!

I wonder which delusion I, as a “European American,” am suffering from. Am I in denial or just ignorant?

I believe in truth few people today are all that sensitive to race, except in the guilt-ridden or victimized feelings foisted upon them by a politically correct culture. Those that are genuinely racist are so few and so sick that they are hardly worthy of more than a passing derision, or at most a genuine concern for their mental well-being. For Crash to expect anyone to believe that the film in any way represents the state of race relations in America today is an insult to the viewer’s intelligence.

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