The movie Crash was directed by Paul Haggis. It was filmed in California the year 2004. The film is not about few characters but many at once. Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, Ludacris, Larenz Tate, Ryan Phillippe, Sandra Bullock and many others made valuable contributions to the movie. Crash, deals with several topics including life, racism, and stereotyping. This movie deals with people from various backgrounds and races. We see a variety of African American men and women, several Hispanic characters, a Persian family, and several Asians. There are people with contrasting lifestyles, such as criminals and police officers. Some people are poor, and others are rich. Some people have power, while others don’t. However, all of these people, regardless of their backgrounds, status, and place in life, are impacted by racism. The movie represents racist experiences; however, the narrative is written for a white audience, as most narratives are.
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The movie starts off with several people being involved in a car accident. The viewer is then taken back to the day before the crash where they are shown the lives of many of the characters, and the difficulties the characters encountered during that day. “Whiteness” is presented through justifications of the white characters’ racist actions toward other races and how the white audience must see the white characters ultimately in a good light. The movie suggests that whites are not technically to blame for the issue of racism in an attempt to not offend the main white audience.
“Whiteness” is demonstrated by presenting the white characters first in a negative light; then, the white characters are shown in a more positive light in the final scenes. The negative side of “whiteness” is illustrated in the scene where Rick, a wealthy white man, and Jean. his wife, are walking down the street. Jean holds onto her purse and moves closer to Rick when she sees two black men walking toward them. Anthony and Peter, the two black men walking toward Jean and Rick, notice Jean’s reaction and they hijack Rick and Jean’s SUV because they were angry about her racist reaction. This confirms the negative feelings that Jean had toward black men. After the carjacking, Rick called in to get his lock fixed. When a Hispanic locksmith shows up at Rick and Jean’s house to fix the locks, she is still upset from the carjacking incident, and she is taken aback by this Hispanic man with tattoos on his arms. She decides by looking at him that she wants the locks changed again tomorrow because he is a gangbanger and a criminal. Jean makes value judgments about him simply by looking at him, not knowing that he is an honest family man. The movie proposes that she was just scared due to the carjacking; she fears her house keys are going to be shared. The two black men stole her purse in which she had her house keys and identification of where she lives. The movie also implies that everyone would get scared, and that her fear doesn’t make her racist. In her dialog with Rich she talks about how she had a gun in her face resulting in her suspicion. Being this ignorant and racist without understanding that she is ignorant and racist is the ultimate white privilege.
Later, Jean experiences a change of heart and seeks help from her Hispanic housekeeper. She expresses regret about her judgments towards others who are different from her. Ultimately the movie does not leave us with a bad feeling about Jean. A privileged woman who does not work, towards the end, Jean complains tirelessly about all the different domestic helpers. She speaks in a way that both suggests and affirms her white privilege. In this scene she realizes it is not the people and the world around her, but in fact she is simply an unhappy woman. She begins to cry, and we see her change. Next she is giving her Hispanic housekeeper a hug and calling the woman her best friend. The scene takes this white character and illustrates her in a more positive light even though personal troubles should not be an excuse for racism. White majority audience are on some level asked to forgive Jean’s character.
Before her change of heart, Jean treats her Hispanic maid like an animal criticizing everything she does. According to the book, Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication, “We are often defined by our culture and co-culture. Where we come from, what language we speak, what we believe and value” (Adler, Rosenfeld, Proctor II. 31). The movie suggests that in her defense, Jean’s judgments come from the fact that others are different from her and from a different culture. By suggesting this, and showing the viewer her change of heart, the movie indicates that she should be forgiven for her racist actions. Why can we accept and forgive a character’s blameworthy actions the instant she claims personal difficulties? She has money, comprehends she doesn’t have happiness, and enters a time of crisis. Crash makes it seem as if we are so familiar with this sequence of events that bad people, in this case racists, must simply realize the lack of substance in their lives. It is clear the movie is not allowing the white characters to be villains for the white audience.
Officer Ryan and Officer Hanson also both show good and bad qualities. The white Officer Ryan, for example, is overtly racist, and he breaks the law while on duty. He often gets away with it; his supervisor is aware of allegations against him, but no action is taken to ban this behavior. It’s easy to hate him. Yet, in several scenes we see another side of this tragic character as he expresses compassion for his father who has cancer, and we also witness him risking his life to save a black woman. Throughout the film, the audience sees this complex man; he is childlike to his father- someone he truly loves. When it comes to his father he acts nothing like the man in uniform, racist and sexual assaulter. Later on in the movie Officer Ryan ends up saving a black woman he molested in a dramatic and nearly fatal act of heroism. Once again viewers are asked to forgive him for what he did to her before. It appears that he gives her life at the risk of his own and cannot be the racist sexual assaulter he once was. We are led to understand him is as he is suffering alongside his sick father. He, once again, is last seen as a compassionate man, as if his familial difficulty is behind all of his malice, and we should see and forgive that.
Officer Hanson rounds out the good-cop, bad-cop part of the story by repeatedly trying to help people. He sticks up for Flanagan, in a tense standoff with police, keeping the black director from getting shot. He later picks up a black male, stranger, in need. He ends up shooting him to death because he assumed the man had a gun on him as he reaches for his pocket. White privilege is presented through justifications of the white characters’ racist actions toward other races, their relative safely from the law and from social judgments and threats. The white audience must see the white characters ultimately in a good light. Crash presents more than one side of many characters, it is important to pay attention on how it ends with each character.
The movie suggests that white people are not technically to blame for the issue of racism in an attempt to not offend the main white audience of the movie. The movie, Crash, helps make white people feel like they shouldn’t be blamed for their own racist judgments. In the article, “Crash is a White Supremacist Movie,” Jensen and Wosnitzer suggest that, “The first step in putting white people back on the hook is pressing the case that the United States in 2006 is a white-supremacist society” (Jensen and Wosnitzer). However, many times color is what is looked at to form a variety of other judgments about people. Most people do not understand why other races are not thriving in this country the way white Americans are. They do not understand the implications of the immigration issues in the U.S. right now or the institutionalized racism.
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The white characters’ act racist toward other race characters in the movie and the film suggests that white characters are ultimately blameless, but these characters also carry perquisite of self-glorification due to the fact that they are white. The benefits of white privilege play out again and again by the white characters, viewers are then persuaded to ignore and not blame it on white people. As it is known white privilege is a term that has caused a lot of arguments in America. Throughout Crash white privilege is being displayed in more than one scene.
White people have furthermost privilege without even knowing it. For example, you’re six times more likely to get stopped by the police if you’re black. Unemployment rates are twice as high for ethnic minorities than for white people. You are more likely to be considered for a promotion than a racial minority who is just as qualified. Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, told CNBC “Among African-Americans the unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent, one of the lowest levels since 1972.” He goes on and told CNBC “But in the same month, the unemployment rate was 2.7 percent for Asian-Americans, 3.6 percent for whites and 4.8 percent for Hispanics.” We see these things happening almost everyday. White people never have to worry about racism or that they will have to speak for their entire race. They can see themselves represented on television, in movies, in magazines and everywhere else. However, white people do not like to talk about white privilege or even acknowledge it. The same spirit is being shown in this movie.
As Rothenberg says, “Perhaps there is a strong desire to deny the impact of racism because recognizing it might demand that we talk about white responsibility, white complicity, white privilege” (Rothenberg 6). People assume that one can tell both race and ethnicity from just looking at a person.
Until we as a society can take the time to understand the roots of discriminations and take a good look at our own thought patterns, we’ll never move forward. Movies like Crash are forcing us to look the opposite way and ignore the reality of that is going on. In contrast viewers, in this case white people, are encouraged to realize that everyone can relate to these characters in someway. No need to blame white people, we all have problems and internal struggles. Regardless of what white characters do in Crash they later on come out painted in a good light. White privilege also plays into this a large amount because white people are able to say and do things that only define them as an individual, whereas if a person of color messes something up, their whole race is judged. Like we seen on, Officer Ryan, Jean and Officer Hanson, Ryan breaks the law while on duty and he gets away with. This means that White people can go out and be independent without fear of their action. White people therefore feel the need to define themselves as not racist because they have the ability to do so. It may be difficult to understand, but characters we are made to hate turn out to be the ones we forgive. Crash is not filled with accusations, rather it a film of dismissals. Martin Luther King Jr once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The movie plants seeds though and leaves character judgment up to the viewers. Ask yourself what is your position within the American racial discussion, and what can you do to understand the experiences of others and support them? By influencing the audience to forgive the white characters’ racist behavior due to their personal struggles, allows the blame of racism to be blocked from the white race. The racist behaviors are made impossible to condemn due to the justifications presented. The movie strongly attempts to show the white characters ultimately in a good light. This reinforces “whiteness” and the white audiences’ need to see the white characters in a positive light and not as the bad guys.
- Jensen, Robert and Wosnitzer, Robert. ‘“Crash” is a White Supremacist Movie.’ Race racism and the law. 2007: http://racism.org/index.php/articles/race/white-privilege/401-whiteness19a
- Adler, Ronald B., et al. Interplay: The process of Interpersonal Communication. New York, Oxford University press, Inc., 2004
- Marc Morial. April jobs report shows racial disparities in unemployment rates continue. CNBC, 4 may 2018: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/04/aprils-jobs-report-shows-racial-inequalities-in-unemployment-rate.html
- Rothenberg, Paula S. White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism. New York, Worth Publishers, 2002.
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