Racism and Racial Stigmas in Crash Thesis

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Racism and Racial Stigmas in "Crash" and Other Films

So, America's big cities are full of racial tensions, right? And the theory goes that Caucasians don't like African-Americans very well, Black folks are fed up with the white racist majority culture, and other ethnicities like Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans struggle for acceptance and fairness in a racist society - right? That's correct, if you believe what you see and hear and feel in "Crash."

And granted, life isn't really as bad - and people couldn't possibly be as rude, hateful and unbendingly racist - as one would believe if taking the film "Crash" literally. But life is bad, pretty darn bad, for a lot of people who live in greater L.A. - or in any sprawling, multicultural urban setting in 2008.

Visit Dallas, Chicago, New York, Newark, Miami, and try to tell me those many and diverse cultures and sub-cultures truly love and embrace each other. I'll show you a dog that flies. I'll show you a turnip that solves physics problems.

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Meanwhile, it is the thesis of this paper that while this movie was an eye-popping, jaw-dropping jolt of hideously racist individuals living out various twisted ethnocentric ideologies, it is in broad brushstrokes a gross exaggeration of 21st Century urban life. And yet at the same time, it honestly reflects realities in artistic terms. It is what we see it is, and more: a glut of pilgrims from diverse points of entry, polarized by a political system that borders on fascism, yet in their hearts a love that fights for survival can snuff out the loathing in wink of a jaundiced eye.

Crash" had to be an exaggeration, otherwise it would not have attracted the attention it did, and people would perhaps still be slumbering, thinking everything's cool on the Western front.

Thesis on Racism and Racial Stigmas in Crash and Assignment

And take this to the bank: the word "Crash" in this film is uses as a metaphor for cultures slamming into one another, people banging on one another, cars colliding, hatred echoing down alleyways strewn with shattered glass where dreams are crushed by bloody sledgehammers.

The Mexican woman stops in the street and the Asian driver says "She 'blake' too fast." "I 'blake' too fast" replies the Mexican, employing a racial slur (parroting the Asian pronunciation). The racist gun shop owner to the Arabian purchaser: "Yo, Osama! Plan a jihad on your own time" (the racist inference is that all Muslims are terrorists) (www.script-o-rama.com).

And then there are the two African-American young men conversing about their place in the Caucasian society: "Look at us, dawg. Are we dressed like gangbangers?" "Huh? No." "Do we look threatening? No." "Fact. If anybody should be scared around here, it's us!" "We're the only two black faces surrounded by a sea of over-caffeinated white people." "Patrolled by the trigger-happy L.A.P.D." "So you tell me. We aren't we scared?" "Cause we got guns?" "You could be right?" (www.script-o-rama.com).And then they hijack a car.

The singular meaning of this film, from this writer's perspective, is that the film shows viewers that diversity isn't an easy game to play in a city crammed with cars, loathing, refugees and attitude. Moreover, we all have our prejudices, biases and hatreds - we just show them in different ways. Some of us can overcome those prejudices; others of us can't.

Meanwhile, there are four main reasons why this film is an important piece of work.

First of all, this film clearly grabbed the issue of racial intolerance and cultural stereotyping by the neck and shook it - and all of us with it - until teeth were about to fall out. Did Americans need to be reminded that, no matter what ethnic blood is hurtling through our veins and arteries, or what nationality is in our collective pasts, we're all suffering from some strain of malignant bias towards others? Maybe yes, maybe no, but that's beside the point.

After seeing "Crash," we have been scolded. Done deal. Ouch! Here, drink this. Take your punishment. And no movie in memory has packed so much pain into one story, all spawned from raw, unfounded assumptions based on race, fear, urban chaos and ethnicity.

Secondly, all of the characters in the film - except perhaps the Latino locksmith gent - had racism issues towards others, and no matter how powerful or how pathetically poor that people are, the virus that is ethnic bias unites Americans in a perverse yet poignant way.

Thirdly, despite its obvious addiction to overstatement (art, after all, is necessarily an exaggeration of life), this movie connects the dots - the characters and the incidents they perpetrate or react to - in ways that are coincidental, serendipitous, shocking, bloody, fascinating, and almost entirely believable.

Fourthly, the movie is a lesson offered through film; it brilliantly portrays the harried lives of all of us, in that we often don't stop often enough to smell the flowers that spring from the rich earth of diversity all around us. We tend to take the lazy road, and too often we languish in the gutter of our own limited vision of the world and our narrow understanding of its people.

Reading the views of Roger Ebert (Ebert 2005) - after writing the initial draft of this paper - pretty much serves as a post-corroboration the thesis of this paper. Ebert, respected widely for his intelligent and experienced perception, points out that people in the film "say exactly what they are thinking, without the filters of political correctness." Ebert says that Paul Haggis, the director, wrote the dialogue "with such directness and such a good ear for everyday speech that the characters seem plausible after only a few words."

Among the strongest performances in the film is Matt Dillon, who plays the racist Los Angeles policeman. Dillon's effort is brilliant - the audience certainly believes that he is a bad guy by his unwarranted harassment of a black couple in an SUV - and his character has more than one dimension, which adds strength to the story being told. As the thesis of this paper points out, accepting diversity isn't an effortless game to play. Hatred is the easier out.

Dillon is a totally prejudiced, hateful jerk towards the couple he stops and towards a black woman who works for the HMO that his father is a member of; and yet Dillon is very kind to his suffering father; "we understand why he explodes at the HMO worker," Ebert writes. Dillon "victimizes others by exercising his power, and is impotent when it comes to helping his father." He is both a victim of circumstances and a perpetrator of intolerance. He is a dichotomy that is a microcosm of the crazed city itself.

But then Haggis maneuvers the story so "the plot turns ironically on itself," Ebert continues; both Dillon's character and the young cop who despises Dillon wind up saving the lives of the black couple (a TV director and his wife) that were stopped (and harassed) without justification earlier in the film. "Is this just manipulative storytelling?" Ebert wonders.

Ebert - and this writer agrees - thinks it goes deeper than just a twist in the plot and a cheap irony. Director Haggis is, in fact, making a social statement through the telling of parables, in which, Ebert writes, "The characters learn the lessons they have earned by their behavior."

Many scenes in "Crash" are made almost surreal through their cinematographic techniques. The burning car accident scene stands out as one of many very effective use of film. Not only was the car burning and close to blowing up, the sun was setting in the west in a kind of symbolic sign that the sun might also be setting (figuratively) on two of the characters, had the car exploded earlier.

Near the end of the film, as snow falls in Los Angeles - about as likely a scenario as racial harmony arriving in L.A. any time soon - the TV producer gets out of his car, looks up in amazement, then tosses a piece of wood on the already burning car that is keeping some homeless people warm. This scene is stark, telling, and poignant. Snow juxtaposed with fire in LA at night - cinema drama at its best. it's doesn't snow in Los Angeles - and it rarely even rains - but just maybe the big flakes tumbling down into the city will chill the hot hatred and reduce the fiery fear in the city.

In "Mississippi Burning" two FBI agents are on the hunt for the murderers of civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, in Mississippi. The viciousness of the locals comes through as redneck racist Frank Bailey says this to FBI agent Anderson (played by Gene Hackman): "No you just listen here, you cornholin' *****er. You tell your queer-loving nigger bosses that they ain't never gonna find these civil rightsers! So you might as well pack up and go back where you came from and..." (Bailey,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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