Most people I talked to liked the movie Crash, some claiming it was the best movie they had seen on the topic of racism. I was, therefore, looking forward to seeing it but ended up being mostly appalled by cliches and wasted opportunities. (And of course by the fact that so many people see very differently from me; could it be that people are so eager to have this topic discussed that they will accept anything?! Or...what's wrong with me?!) The cast is excellent and the movie is well executed technically, but the story's plot, premises, and conclusions are much like many other Hollywood stories--superficial and ill-considered. Superficial is also the pretense of genre: the film wants to be a drama but ends up being an action movie--with surprises and twists galore.

Quick summary would be that several vignettes juxtapose several participants, white, black,
Latino, Asian and Iranian. Professional connections coexist with basic ignorance and lack of curiosity of each other's groups... and thus stereotypes prevail and fossilize. Closure is in the twists of action; what seems is not and what is good eventually gets spoiled. Great way to discuss race, right?!

Because of the TV-ish visuals, the movie has (too) many parallel stories, and consequently each story lacks depth. Perhaps the way the vignettes are connected is interesting and the irony is quite welcome, but several of the stories are cliches (Sandra Bullock's role, for example) and do not add much new--at least to somebody who knows and moves around the various communities this film tries to portray.

The superficiality of the plots and actions of Crash continues with the "magic twists", typical of Hollywood. One character realizes her past mistakes and, I suppose as a sign of repentance, grabs her maid and gives her a big hug, spontaneously and in a heart-felt way, but (now isn't that a bit too forward, Ms. WhiteGirl?!) one just wanders what their relationship is going to be like from now on? Best friends, closer than family? But it seems unnecessary to dwell on it because the movie does not seem to want to go there anyway, despite what the participants say: the whole film clamors to avoid discussing issues.

Because when something is so unrealistic and paradoxical, how does one discuss it? That lack of discussion goes hand in hand with superficiality, while present is also a solid chunk of cynicism. Cynical is not just the way in which the movie's brute turns hero while honest people turn murderous (and some even cowardly murderers), but how the various twists are left dangling...more mischievously, to surprise, than to raise any discussion points. How can a discussion proceed regarding the fact that the racist cop, who brutally humiliates a by-chance-pulled over African-American couple, then gets even to fight to save the woman's life? Even if we do not want to dwell on how this is possible, let's then just imagine how the experience has changed the two of them? We can imagine all we want but the movie is moving on: they are dropped from then on. Or, as in another case, how can we explain the change of heart in one of the most inclusive of the characters, somebody who almost stood up to his fellow cops for the sake of justice despite colour, but who at the end suddenly gets touchy and twitchy and commits a murder, which he then tries to conceal? How do we explain that twist of morality? Where does it come from? Well, the movie goes on because there are other plots to finish and we should suspend our disbelief.

Excited as I was to see a movie about racism, a very important topic in the US, I was utterly disappointed by yet another Hollywood product simply full of action, extremes, and in this case cynicism to the maximum.

Now my question is as follows: What feature movies (thus not documentaries, which abound) have been made that discuss race? I can come up with oeuvre of Mr. Spike Lee, Mira Nair's Mississippi Masala, which I enjoyed tremendously. There is always the good old To Kill a Mockingbird, but I'm looking for something more recent--80's onward. Anything there? Some movies address the topic a little bit: Matewan, by John Sayles, for example.


cãorafeiro said...

I agree with this analisys, but I did like the film, because of all those stereotipes...

I like stereotiped films, I think they can show us a lot, because, in fact, most people look at society in a stereotiped way, and the fact that those people make movies allows me to enter their minds and to find out which images they want us, viewers, to absorb.

anyway, this idea of dividing everyone according to their cultural, ethnic or geografical backgroud does disturb me.

Yakima_Gulag said...

My favorite film on racial issues is 'Gentlemans Agreement' it had Gregory Peck.

Shaina said...

To Kill A Mockingbird is my favorite novel; and I think it is one of the better novels/movies made about race and human dignity.

Other than that, I can't really think of a good fictionalized portrayal of race relations in America, except for the ones already mentioned.

I generally prefer documentaries, such as PBS's multipart "Eyes on the Prize" documentary on the civil rights movement. It is certainly better than the popular, but horribly historically inacurate movie "Mississippi Burning"!

Sig.ra Ethnia said...

Thank you for your comments! Caorafeiro, I agree that portrayals of stereotypes can show much. In fact, I like parodies and satires (Jon Stewart, surprise, surprise, had a piece on Obama and I appreciated it), but this movie, I thought, was trying to be serious... I guess some works can just get me riled up and the portrayed division you mention is probably the reason.

I know Gentleman's Agreement, Yakima! I grew up on Gregory Peck, whom RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) adored, but have not seen the film recently, so I'll take a look at it.

Shaina, I love documentaries in general (moving pictures are my big passion!) and good ones have been made on this topic. I was looking for fiction and for more recent movies--I just could not think of any that aren't about hip-hop...Tuskegee Airmen? I have not seen that one. Where are good directors when you need them?

cãorafeiro said...

»»this movie, I thought, was trying to be serious... ««

it was... the problem is that there is a great probabitity that that's just the way most people look at human relations when they involve people with diferent cultural or ethnical backgrounds.

sig. ethnia: since moving pictures are your passion, why don't you start a blog on these issues? (it would be great)

rachel said...

Welcome to the Blogosphere.

I echo your sentiments on 'Crash.' I was excited to see it, but left the theater feeling emotionally manipulated... The film was explotative Oscar-bait.

I see a lot of movies and I am troubled that I cannot come up with many recent ones that address race in a real way... I offer up American History X and Real Women Have Curves.

Yakima_Gulag said...

I actually got to see 'Gentleman's Agreement' on the Serbian station while I was in Sarajevo the first time back in 1998. I used to watch all the stations, as it helped me with the language, even the programs for kids, but movies in English with subtitles helped the most. I don't read Cyrillic easily and they used to have subtitled shows twice, once with Cyrillic subtitles, and once with Latin character subtitles. It was very helpful to me. My mother had told me about this film when I was a kid. It once in awhile ran on late late movie shows. Unfortunately it didn't run on such a show when I was younger. There are a number of older American movies I got to see the first time over there! There was a John Wayne that ran on the Croatian station too, that I liked, and hadn't got to see growing up, since my parents were not John Wayne fans.

Shaina said...

Perhaps there is a conscious or even subconscious hesitancy about making featured films that deal head on with race? Perhaps some directors feel that it is still a taboo topic; or perhaps even more, that they cannot create a good movie on the topic?
I know you are looking for more modern day films; but "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is another (for the time) landmark film on race relations.
For some reason, I think that it is easier to create a documentary on issues involving race; rather than a feature film.

Sig.ra Ethnia said...

I would love to have time to maintain a blog on movies (and design), but I'm afraid it is enough to have one blog per family. :-)

Real Women Have Curves is an excellent one! American History X I do not know; I'll check it out. I also recently saw El Norte, which I thought was very powerful. Sydney Poitier is excellent of course; the whole movie Who's Coming to Dinner is powerful. I'm remembering now the chick movie Waiting to Exhale, but I do not remember whether it is engaging.

I am still surprised that there aren't more movies that depict race relations. More African-American actors have been getting roles in movies, but the roles do not necessarily tackle inter-racial relationships. I also suspect, as Shaina pointed out, that it is still a taboo theme for Hollywood (and thus more often tackled through documentaries), "taboo" also in the sense that it might not make enough money. Perhaps Crash will open the doors to more movies, some of which might be less stereotypical and still hits.

Shaina said...

This film doesn't deal with US racism; but "Rabbit Proof Fence" is a very good movie about the "Stolen Generation" of Aboriginal children in Australia.

Sig.ra Ethnia said...

Thank you for the recommendation! Hey, I didn't want to start too broadly, but considering the modest offerings for the US, one has to...

Movies from African countries come to mind as well. Chocolat, set in Cameron, is a powerful movie.

I also just found this little list from African Studies Program at Indiana University on resources about Africa:

It's commercially oriented, but that's what I'm looking for in videos.