Maridette Rasing, Jennifer Hernandez, Erika Luna-Contreras

A Critical Analysis on Crash: Classism and Racism

As a fan of cinema, I was excited to do this project on what I had remembered as a touching portrait on racism in our modern society. Writer/Director Paul Haggis deliberately depicts his characters in Crash within the context of many typical ethnic stereotypes that exist in our world today -- a "gangbanger" Latino with a shaved head and tattoos, an upper-class white woman who is discomforted by the sight of two young Black kids, and so on -- and causes them to rethink their own prejudices during their "crash moment" when they realize the racism that exists within themselves.

This movie does provoke a dialogue on race that, according to author and journalist Jeff Chang, "has been anathema to Hollywood after 9/11." During the first viewing of this movie, the emotionally charged themes of prejudice and racism are easy to get caught up in. However, during my subsequent re-viewings of Crash, I slowly came to realize that while the movie's idealistic message of ending racism on a personal level is virtuous in its intent, it also works against itself due to the underlying tones of white privilege and supremacy that are not touched upon, or even acknowledged in the film.

Crash's main white characters are depicted in comfortable positions, both socially and economically. Jean and Rick Cabot, played by Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser respectively, are well-off L.A. socialites, as Rick is the District Attorney of Los Angeles. Tony Danza makes a cameo as a television executive producer who tells Black producer Cameron Thayer (Terence Howard), one of the few financially secure (but not exactly socially secure) minority roles in the film, to make one of his actors speak "more black" because that character was "supposed to be the dumb one." John Ryan, played by Matt Dillon, and Tom Hansen, played by Ryan Phillippe, are both police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. All the main white characters are never shown struggling with their financial situations. Meanwhile, many (but notably, not all) of the minority characters are portrayed as destitute or powerless socially. Michael Pena's character Daniel is a working-class younger Hispanic family man with a young daughter. The daughter is shown sleeping under the bed because she heard a gunshot, which we find out scares her because she had a bullet go through her room in the old house they have just moved from, which Daniel comments was a "bad neighborhood." He works as for a 24-hour locksmith who goes on a call at Jean and Rick Cabot's house, where after being robbed at gunpoint by a pair of young Black car thieves named Anthony (Ludacris) and Peter (Larenz Tate), Jean shouts out that she wants the locks changed because she thinks Daniel will sell off key to his supposed gang member friends. Daniel is within earshot and hears her comments from down the hallway. We also see Daniel fix the back door lock of Farhad's convenience store. Daniel warns that the door itself needs replacing, which Farhad, an older Persian man, seems to misunderstand and eventually leads to a screaming match where Farhad accuses Daniel of being a cheater. Yet Officer Ryan's main plight in the film deals with his racism which stems from his father's downward turn in life. Ryan himself is not portrayed as poor, or straining to fulfill the most basic human needs like food or shelter. These are all big-screen manifestations, albeit slightly exaggerated, of how the "surplus people" (Lorde 177) live in the States.

Meanwhile, mostly whites occupy that well-defined coterie of American social elite, which Donna Langston says America plays blind to the abstract oppression that is classism, which "functions to reinforce ruling class control and domination. (125) Privilege is inclined to white males through every facet of our everyday that inconspicuously creates racism through classism. While Crash holds a very touching message on a personal level of human compassion, it unfortunately is also a perfect snapshot Aude Lorde's "'mythical norm,' which each one of us within our hearts knows 'that is not me.'" (178) This is otherwise known in America as "white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, christian and financially secure," where "the trappings of power reside..." (Lorde 178) So why all the fuss about a movie? It's just a film, and some would say that it's not meant to solve the America's issues with racism and classism. While this is true, it is dangerous for such a prevalent film like Crash, which won three Academy Awards including Best Picture in 2005 in addition to a slew of other accolades, to perpetuate that elusive, intangible type of oppression that we all live in, but some still deny. As Langston writes in Tired of Playing Monopoly?:

"In order to perpetuate racist, sexist and classist outcomes, we also have to believe that the current economic distribution is unchangeable, has always existed, and probably exists in this form throughout the known universe; i.e., it's 'natural.'" (125)

Conflict between Farhad, Daniel and the gun store owner.


In the scenes between Farhad, the Persian store owner, and Daniel, the Mexican-American locksmith, viewers can easily see that prejudice and discrimination also exist between other races aside from common white privilege/supremacy and minorities; which also occurs in the movie leading to unfortunate outcomes.

Farhad goes to a gun shop with his daughter Dorri, a doctor at a hospital's morgue, and insists on buying a gun due to a previous robbery which occurred during his wife's shift. The gun shop owner, a white middle-aged male, automatically assumes that Farhad and Dorri are Arabs after they converse in Farsi, trying to decide which bullets they want for the gun they're buying. He says to Farhad, "Yo, Osama! Plan the jihad on your own time. What do you want?" After his intentional insult, Farhad and the gun shop owner exchange words resulting in Farhad being escorted out of the store by the security guard after the gun store owner's further insults about the attack of 9/11.

This scene vividly reaffirms the hostility of white Americans toward Middle Easterners who live in the U.S. during and post 9/11. Although Farhad does not have any association with the happenings in Iraq, blind hatred, blame, and frustration are taken out on him because of physical characteristic association. Suheir Hammad's states, "More than ever, I believe there is no difference. The most privileged nation, most Americans do not know the difference between Indians, Afghanis, Syrians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus. More than ever, there is no difference."(Hammad 3) This affirms that through the eyes of the oppressor, there is no difference as long as justice is served.

Further, the movie touches on the barriers of communication between different minority groups in a diverse area such as Los Angeles.

Daniel tells Farhad that he replaced the lock on the door of the store and that he needs to fix the broken door. Farhad clearly misunderstands Daniel and begins to call him a "cheater" when Daniel says that he replaced the lock but can't fix the door. Daniel leaves the store frustrated with Farhad's constant badgering without being paid for the service. Later on in the movie, Farhad's store is broken into and vandalized by, whom we can only assume, the gun store owner. Farhad is devastated and decides to take out his anger on whom he believes was responsible, Daniel. Farhad finds where Daniel lives, waits outside his house until he returns home from work, and holds him at gun point demanding his money for the repairs of his store. He then fires the gun at Daniel only to see Daniel's daughter, Lara, jump into Daniel's arms to protect her father from being shot.

The assumption of Daniel being depicted as a "gangster" lead Farhad to the conclusion that he was responsible for the break in of his store. Therefore affirming the stereotypical image of a male Latino gangster having a shaved head and tattoos being the cause of vandalism and crime.

After examining all of the incidents between Farhad, Daniel, and the gun shop owner, it is obvious that prejudice lies within us. We carry stereotypical images of people, which lead to assumptions and unjustifiable acts of racism and still avoiding the aspect of white privilege and supremacy because the racist acts of one minority group against another minority group become the primary focus. Power appears to lie with the white male, who supposedly triggered Farhad to search for Daniel with the idea of revenge circulating in his mind. Prejudice between class, gender, and race will probably take lifetimes to prevent. However, educating ourselves and seeing past stereotypical images will allow us to break repetition of societal norms.

Christine and Cameron Thayer are searched by Officers John Ryan and Tom Hansen


In these two scenes we see the reactions of Christine and Cameron Thayer, an affluent African American husband and wife, to being pulled over by Caucasian police officers for no apparent reason other than being black. The events that transpire cause Christine to challenge dominant racial and gender based social norms.

Christine Thayer challenges the social norm that abuse against black women is the same for all women. Cameron Thayer accuses his wife of not knowing what it is like to be black in that she was part of the white equestrian team at a presumably white prestigious school. However, Christine stands up for her experience. Audre Lorde states in in her paper “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”:

“…white women face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power. This possibility does not exist in the same way for women of Color. The tokenism that is sometimes extended to us is not an invitation to join power; our racial “otherness” is a visible reality that makes that quite clear. For white women there is wider range of pretended choices and rewards for identifying with patriarchal power and its tools (180).”

And so, although Christine may have been friends with white women of the equestrian team, she may have had experiences with them that marginalized her due to the fact that white women although part of the sexual minority, were on the other hand counterpart with the majority, and that is what Cameron fails to recognize.

Christine also challenges the social norm of the abuse against black women. Christine argues against the social norm that “sexual hostility against black women is practiced not only by the white racist society, but implemented within our black communities as well” (Lorde, 181). Her husband unknowingly supports this norm in his blatant lack of inaction at the time of her attack, and subsequently, lack of emotion towards the assault against his wife.

“Black women’s literature is full of the pain of frequent assault, not only by a racist patriarchy, but also by Black men…As Kalamu ya Salaam, a Black male writer points out, “As long as male domination exists, rape will exist. Only women revolting and men made conscious of their responsibility to fight sexism can collectively stop rape. (Lorde, 182).”

Christine sarcastically admits to Cameron that she does have a lot to learn about being black and says she has to learn how to “shuck and jive” and imitates the way he apologized to Officer John for his abuse against her, blaming Cameron for allowing it to happen. Cameron is angered by Christine’s comment and lack of understanding towards his actions. At the end of the scene she says to him, “Finally, a little anger, it’s a bit late but it’s nice to see.”

“Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” by Audre Lorde in Course Reader

Crash (2004 Movie) written by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco