Racism in “Crash”
Physical Characteristics and racial differences are distinguishing traits that keep people in our world apart from each other. Crash is a movie that showcases prejudice and racial stereotypes. The movie is set in Los Angeles which is a city with the cultural mix of almost every ethnicity. Crash is a perfect analogy of how the different people intersect with others in society. The movie crash shows differences between the lives of different people. It displays the interactions of several multiethnic groups such as African American, Caucasians, Asians, Latinos, and Arabs. All of the groups are striving to overcome their fears as they weave in and out of each other’s lives. They are all tied by an invisible chain of events, so the movie shows how we all have an effect on one another whether we realize it or not.
The basic premise is that we can not live our lives without crashing into others. Others may look different and come from all walks of life but ultimately we are all the same. We are ultimately connected and the sooner we realize this, the better society as a whole will be. The opening scene begins with a crash and the statement is made that we don’t touch each other enough, so we have to crash just to interact. We need each other to survive, so connections have to be made. The ultimate goal should be to touch each other’s lives in a positive and lovely way and not to violently “crash” into one another. This makes one question their own personal prejudices and each experience that have fueled stereotypes. It makes one think about the internal struggles within their own ethnic group and whether one can overcome his or her prejudices and discriminations and just see people as simply human beings. Racism occurs as a result of a person’s upbringing. If you were raised by racists, there is a good chance that you will grow up to be a racist. Matt Dillon’s character, John Ryan seems to be a good example of this idea.
Officer Ryan displays a close connection with his father and the roots of racism is showed later in the movie. It was assumed that Ryan was a product of his environment that absorbed racist views from his father regarding his attitude towards black people. However, later in the movie Ryan’s father turns out not to be racist after all. Ryan’s racism and attitude towards black people stems from his own experiences as a Los Angeles police officer. Another example of racism occurred at the beginning of the film when the Arab looking father and daughter attempted to buy a gun. The clerk at the gun shop made a few blatantly racist comments about the customers because he assumes they are Middle Eastern. There were several references to the September 11 attacks. It didn’t matter that the two were Persian, not Arab. Unfortunately, the reoccurring theme post 9/11 is that all Middle Eastern people became potential terrorists. It is amazing that people have the ability to interpret bad events and cast their own prejudices on different ethnic groups to mask their own feelings of anger and frustration. Certain stereotypes have stood the test of time, no matter how many strides for racial equality have been made. Sandra Bullock’s character made the statement about the relationship between white and black people: “If a white woman sees two black men walking towards her and turns the other way, she’s a racist. Well I got scared and didn’t’ say anything, and the next thing I knew, I had a gun shoved in my head” (Crash 2004). This way of thinking comes from the fear of physical violence from African Americans. Throughout history, especially during the civil rights movement, African Americans have been treated badly. They have been beaten, battered and bruised and have even lost their lives. White people have a fear, whether conscious of it or not, of African Americans retaliating and getting their revenge for all the atrocities that have been committed toward them.
The “Things will never change.” attitude along with the perpetuation of existing stereotypes may be largely responsible for negative racial longevity and popularity. Ludacris’ character, Anthony, was quite interesting. He seemed to be angry at people who viewed him in a negative light. He was mad at the black waitress and at Sandra Bullock’s character for thinking he was a thug. Unfortunately instead of proving them wrong, he played into the stereotype and carjacked Bullock’s character and her husband at gunpoint. On the flip side, stereotypes can occur anywhere; they are not simply restricted to certain skin-tones and neighborhoods. Racial discrimination transcends social class as well which creates division within the same racial groups. In the film, Cameron was portrayed as a wealthy, black, television actor. He achieved success as a hard-working black man, but it put him in an uneasy predicament. Cameron faced scrutiny from both his ‘people,’ namely his wife, and from his white producer. It was like he was caught in a quite a predicament. If he wanted to be successful with his film producer, he needed to act like a white man but his wife wanted him to be more “black” and aggressive. With that came major issues. Just because he had a good paying job, he failed to acknowledge that all the money in the world couldn’t change that he was, “a black man.” Look what happened when he got pulled over by the LAPD. They did not care that he was a law-abiding Buddhist, and a positive contributor of society, he was still black. With the success he had achieved as an actor, it was also possible that he developed a sense of entitlement, thinking he would be treated just as a white man and better off than the others of his decent. As a result of this false sense of entitlement, he faced embarrassment, shame, frustration, and anger when he and his wife were harassed b office Ryan. He realized he can never be white or black enough to satisfy the people in his life. When Sandra Bullock’s character, Jean Cabot, first saw the Latino locksmith, she made a snap judgment based on his appearance. She assumed he was a gang member because of his tattoos and his shaved head. In her perception, she determined that he was going to use her house keys to allow his friends to burglarize her home. Opposite of her view of him, he was a soft-spoken family man who was just trying to make a living. Cabot’s discrimination of the locksmith was definitely blatant and it did not seem as if she cared if he heard her. His struggle was keeping quiet and composed even though he was faced with prejudice and stereotyping at his expense. When he learned about Cabot’s preconceive notions, he seemed truly hurt and defeated by that.
The Persian shopkeeper also had a similar first impression of the locksmith that was solely based on stereotypes. He made a bad assumption that the Latino locksmith was concocting a plan to rip him off. The shopkeeper’s ignorance and perception led to his inability to listen to reason. If he had listened, he would have needed the locksmith’s advice about buying a new door and would have prevented the vandalism. Neither Cabot’s character nor the shopkeeper took the time to know him and to look past their preconceived notions. To them, he was just passing by temporarily to fix the glitch of inconvenience that was disrupting their lives. In the scene with Sgt. Ryan and Mrs. Thayer, when Mrs. Thayer finds herself in a terrible predicament inside her over-turned car, we see an example of social exchange, and weighing costs and benefits. Mrs. Thayer is adamantly opposed to being rescued by a person who, not but a night ago, had “molested” her in front of her husband using his superior position as a police officer to his advantage. Mrs. Thayer now must re-evaluate the situation when Sgt. Ryan explains that he is not going to hurt her and he is the only person there to help her. She had to weigh the cost of giving him the power to save her. Maybe it was her pride that made her hesitate to accept his help, but the cost of refusing it is death was overwhelming. The payoff of his help is living to see her husband however the thought of that particular officer coming to her aid must be difficult to deal with. The situation has now changed, instead of her violator, Sgt. Ryan is her savior showing some light and change to the theme of racism throughout the film. We as a society have gotten so emotionally distant from one another that we have developed a prevalent selfishness and apathy towards understanding others. It is easier to label someone with a negative name, because it seems to make them less human. Snap judgments are often made because we really do not take out time to get to know people. Everyone is lumped into their respective categories and we like that because things seem less complicated when everything is put into neat little boxes.
Rather than taking the time to move past standing stereotypes and preconceived notions, we often settle for the easy way out. The social problems and conflicts within the film are usually caused by Caucasians exploiting and oppressing the less powerful minority groups. However, the conflict within the movie had a positive effect as well of causing many of the characters to re-evaluate their individual prejudices. It comes down to the matter of fact that our modern society has a significant disproportion in the distribution of wealth and power, and with that comes prejudice. These disproportions and inequalities is undoubtedly one of the main causes of all societies racial and social problems today. The movie depicts so much about present day society. Until we can take the time to understand the roots of personal prejudices and take a hard look at how we perceive things, we’ll never move forward. Films like Crash force us to look outside ourselves and fears of others, to realize that we’re more alike than we actually think. Aside from very small genetic differences between us, we all have similar problems and internal struggles in our everyday lives and that is what makes us human. Nobody is actually the outer shell that we can see, we are more than that. The less we can be ruled by the fear of others, the better our lives can be. The more we develop empathy for people and look beyond race and ethnicity issues, the more we can see that we are all one.
Crash, by Paul Haggis. Released September 10, 2004 (film).