Paul Haggis’ (2004) movie “Crash” is a powerful portrayal on the way in which racial discrimination as a complex social problem affects the lives of people. Set in Los Angeles, the movie shows how different people often “crash” into each other’s lives and unconsciously create ripples in these interactions. The effectivity of Higgis’ depiction lies on the utter simplicity by which the movie is able to show the nuances of interlocking problems from multiple perspectives.
Interestingly, the movie also poses the problem of coping in a multi-cultural society where racism is almost a norm in itself and shows how gender and socio-economic gaps contribute to and reinforce racial stereotypes and biases.
The film’s exploration on the barriers erected by racial, gender, and income disparities is perhaps best portrayed by Matt Dillon who plays the character John Ryan, a police officer who has been working for seventeen years with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Ryan is a single, white, male who lives with and takes care of his aging father off-duty and who spends most of the time in the movie demanding a better doctor from his father’s healthcare company.
Ryan is both a dutiful son to his father and the police force, however, his character harbors the frustration resulting from the conflicts of his status as a male Caucasian in the lower rungs of the economic ladder which prevents him from providing better quality of healthcare to his ailing father. It is from thses conflicting roles that his bitterness and disdain towards privileged people of color arises.
Most of the poignant scenes which emphasize his bitterness and his attempt to compensate for his disadvantaged position show Ryan attempting to get back at his perceived tormentors either by physically or verbally harassing them using his position as a police officer and his status as a Caucasian. In the early part of the film, for instance, he is the stereotypical white, racist cop who stops an SUV driven for no apparent reason than the fact that it is driven by a black American and proceeds to create false charges against him.
Clearly a case of selective perception where people are almost always quick to prejudge other people based on the color of their skin or other stereotypes, Ryan treats the man, a film director, like a common criminal. Unfortunately, the man’s wife, played by Thandie Newton, sees the cop’s real agenda for stopping them and protests arrogantly that “You thought you saw a white woman performing fellatio on a black man? … …? that’s why you stopped us.
” (Haggis, 2004) This visibly enrages Ryan who, not wanting to show weakness and lose his power in front of his much younger police partner, retaliates by subjecting the woman to a body search and sexually offending her. The act is both an offense and an insult against the woman and her husband, who are forced to endure the harassment and even apologize to the police officer for a supposed crime. In another scene, Ryan pays Shaniqua a personal visit to discuss his father’s deteriorating health and painful condition which expectedly ends in conflict when he subjects her to racial slurs in an attempt to compel her to do more for his father.
He tells her of his father’s effort to provide employment in his business and of the loss he suffered when the Government started adopting a preference for companies owned by racial minorities. She is not moved by Ryan’s tirade of his father’s contribution to the African-American community, however, because of Ryan’s racist remarks and instead tells him that she would have signed the necessary papers if Ryan had been nicer.