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)


AngryMan410 said...

I agree with everything you said, but I do think that Matt Dillon's character struggled when he needed to help his dying father and couldn't. Other than that I loved this! thanks for posting

Melinda Callahan said...

I have to agree with AngryMan, if Matt Dillion's character had the money to take care of his father's medical condition, obviously he would have.

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