Intercultural Communication

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Some critiques of the movie Crash

Posted by thuicc on March 18, 2006

Since Crash is about race relations in the U.S., and since it won the Oscar for Best Picture, it’s probably something that students of intercultural communication should see to find out what it’s saying. So I borrowed the DVD a week ago and watched it.

I was not particularly impressed with it, I have to say, although I generally like movies that Matt Dillon is in. It seemed too preachy to me–it was more like an essay than a movie. I was also troubled by the treatment of Asians in the movie. There are a couple of posts on the blog Mixed Media Watch that also have critiqued Crash‘s portrayal of Asians (see here and here. They point out that the major characters in the film–black, white, and Persian–appear to be redeemed (to an extent, I’d say) by the end of the film, and the Latino characters don’t seem to need redemption. But the Korean characters are stereotyped and unredeemed at the end. They are not portrayed with any complexity at all. As commenter Christine Hong writes,

every other character come full circle, gaining some measure of redemption, except for the asian couple. the audience sees no resolution to their sinfulness whereas the sins of the other characters have some sort of reason or explanation. i am so conflicted about this movie. i am saddened because once again asians are left to the wayside, left there to rot in the unfavorable context in which the writer and director as created for them. it is apparent that writers and directors who do these kinds of films don’t give a shit about the whole truth of asian american lives. by no means are we flawless, but damn it, i wish someone would give us some measure of respect as human beings.

MMW also has a critique of the movie’s Oscar win here.

American movie critic Roger Ebert defends Crash, calling it

a movie of raw confrontation about the complexity of our motives, about how racism works not only top down but sideways, and how in different situations, we are all capable of behaving shamefully.

Now, I’m sure that people are complex and that everyone is capable of behaving badly, as Ebert says. But I can just as easily look at that Matt Dillon character (the racist cop) and say to myself, “Well, I’m not racist because I would never do the things he does.” And I can look at the Ryan Phillippe character (the cop who doesn’t think he’s racist) and say, “Well, I’m not racist because I wouldn’t shoot a hitchhiker (actually I wouldn’t even pick up a hitchhiker).” So the liberal white guy can come out of this feeling good about himself, not necessarily being challenged about any racism that lurks under the surface in his mind.

Derik Smith, writing in The Black Commentator (via MMW), argues that the movie “relies upon and covertly promotes social narratives that are problematically racist”:

It seems that, upon finally reaching an era in which polite company forces most to acknowledge that racism is inexcusable regardless of circumstance, America’s favorite “race movie” is now asking us to temper our judgment of the embattled figure of the bigot.

Smith also points out that one of the main black characters in the film, a carjacker named Anthony (played by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), actually says some very “thought provoking” things about the situation of African Americans in the U.S.:

He thinks that white, corporate America may stand to benefit from the rampant use of the word “nigga” in contemporary hip-hop; he wonders why the names of black revolutionaries have been lost to history; and, although he’s a thief, he doesn’t want to steal from his own people.

But the movie doesn’t encourage us to accept those ideas as valid:

Yet almost as soon as they are uttered, Crash makes them laughable. The politicized commentary of the paranoid black man is framed in such a way that it ends up becoming the movie’s most consistent source of comic levity.

No conclusion here, just some things to think about if you get to see the movie.

5 Responses to “Some critiques of the movie Crash”

  1. el spencer said

    Cool site. Glad to see some interesting posts on the culture of international media. I saw the movie and thought it was good, but not Oscar-worthy. I never thought about the fact that the Koreans were kind of left out to dry and didn’t get “redemption” like the other characters did. For some reason this movie reminded me of Magnolia especially when the characters crossed paths at the end. However, it wasn’t raining frogs this time.

  2. Thanks for dropping by! I agree that Crash was OK but not the best film of 2005. I just wonder why films about prejudice so often have to rely on over-the-top situations to make their point.

    I haven’t seen Magnolia yet. (Always mix it up with Steel Magnolias for some reason…)

  3. I’ve been thinking of writing a review of Crash myself – since I didn’t like it at all and I’ve been trying to think why. Here are some preliminary thoughts, thanks to reading hte Derik Smith article you linked to:

    I think Derik Smith is right to be suspicious of the film’s racial discourses, but I think the handling of race is only part of the problem. One of the underlying motivations for making the film in the first place, according to the director, was to show the complex ways that strangers can affect each other’s lives. That is actually an interesting project – but in real life such interactions never have tidy conclusions as do all the narrative threads in this movie. While the fact that the “bad” cop gets redeemed and the “good” cop does not is supposed to make this film seem “real” I felt that both threads were equally contrived. I find the whole concept that characters are written on such narrative arcs troublesome, and only a few Hollywood films are able to overcome this limitation. Crash was not one of them.

  4. thuicc said

    That’s a good point, Kerim. Maybe the director was trying to push his “thesis” too hard and lost sight of the humanity in his story. As I suggested above, I didn’t feel like I could really identify with any of the characters–despite the complexity that the director was trying to convey, the white characters (with whom, as a white male, I suppose I was supposed to identify) struck me as types rather than real people.

  5. Cindy said

    What’s the story of the Koreans?!? They have a check and people in the van…. I did not quite get this part. But the rest of the movie is really intense and made me think. I loved every actors…

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