Stereotypes often reflect and are formed from dominant hegemonic values of that specific time. In victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939) characters such as ‘mammy’ clearly reflected the dominant ideological beliefs of that era. With the acceptance of slave labor shaping these beliefs she was representative of the expected and accepted historic black stereotypes of funny fat woman, comic servants, and natural entertainers. In the 1960’s revolutionaries such as Martin Luther King played a key roles in challenging peoples perceptions of women and men of all equalities.
Along with the civil rights movement these derogatory and dominant stereotypes gradually began to change. During the late 50’s to the late 60’s Sidney Poitier was the only black leading man working consistently in Hollywood feature films. The civil rights movement had shaped the contours of Poitier’s career. Non violent demonstrations for black equality had forged a culture in which his image resonated, and his movies had prompted racial goodwill. He made his feature-length movie debut as Dr.
Luther Brooks, a black doctor who treats a bigoted white criminal, in No Way Out (Joseph L. Mankiewicz. ) (1950).
He was the second black actor to win an Academy Award (Hattie McDaniel had won a best supporting actress Oscar for Gone with the Wind in 1939) His role in (No Way Out) established a significant pattern both for Poitier himself and for the black actors who followed him; by refusing roles that played to a racial stereotype, Poitier pushed the restrictive boundaries set by Hollywood and made inroads into the American mainstream.
In contrast to the films of the 50’s and 60’s films of the “blaxploitation” era cast black people in roles such as pimps, drug dealers and sexually promiscuous characters.
Black people were given lead roles and often white people were portrayed in a negative way, often racist bigots in authoritative roles to reflect the injustices that black people often suffer at the hand of white supremacy. The “blaxploitation” films were heavily critisised for continuing to use stereotypes but constant popularity amongst the black community allowed films that followed to have similar success such as Gordon Parks Shaft (1972). From a Marxist point of view it could be argued that in a world in which white hegemonic males run our institutions it is impossible for this dominant representation of ethnic minorities to change.
The negative images which are created generate ideologies in societies. People of ethnic minorities are therefore prevented from moving up the social hierarchy, and consequently are unable to gain position in the media and are forced to continue to be subservient to the white hegemonic males. With films continuing to produce unrealistic presentations of people of ethnic origin, Crash was anticipated to be a film in which we were offered and alternative ideology and ultimately the negative stereotypes would be challenged.
Some critics however have argued that the latter stereotypes are not subverted or challenged; they are simply reinforced and are presented to us as reality. Even when characters surprise us, which happens frequently, it is often by behavior that is just as stereotypical as what we expected, except that it represents a very different stereotype. Crash deliberately shows slanted prejudices against minorities. Latinos become cheating Mexican gang bangers. For example the depiction of Daniel the locksmith The wife of the D.
A Jean Cabot insists on having the locks changed when Daniel leaves as she believes he is a (gang banger, with prison tattoos). Blacks become either in the case of men gun-toting criminals, Anthony (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and his side kick Peter Waters (Larenz Tate) or righteous upper class characters such as Cameron (Terrance Howard. ) Asians become greedy smugglers. And whites oversee this chaos with condescending bigotry. As In the depiction of the two white police officers Officer John Ryan (Matt Dillon) and Officer Tom Hansen (Ryan Phillippe) A more contemporary representation is illustrated by the character of Farhad (Shaun Toub).
Middle Easterners are depicted as stubborn, incoherent convenience store owners. Toub’s character may reflect the current Middle Eastern stereotype subject to the aftermath of 9/11. This current representation is further explored and the severity of the situation revealed when we see Farhad shoot a gun at a small child, many other guns are raised by characters of ethnic origin, but Farhad who is mistaken for being “Iraqi” (when in fact he is Persian) is the only character to attempt murder.
This is further highlighted with mention of Osama Bin Laden in relation to Farhad, reflecting the current feeling of jingoistic resentment displayed post 9/11. Possibly the only two characters that offer us a true alternative are the characters of peter waters (Larenz Tate) and Daniel (Michael Pena). Daniel is mistaken to be a gang member and because of his appearance (having a shaved head and supposedly having “prison tattoos”. He is revealed to be a farther who is working hard to provide and protect his wife and young daughter.
Peter represents a modern stereotypical image which reflects African-American “thug lifestyle” and its relation to Christianity. Many people believe Tupac Shakur is responsible for the Thug life movement when in fact he himself said “I didn’t create Thug Life, I diagnosed it” Tupac Declared the dictionary definition of a “Thug” as being a rouge or criminal was not how he used the term, but rather he meant someone who came from an oppressive background and had little opportunity but still they managed to make a life for themselves and were proud.
Shakur regularly quoted the bible and in the “Code of Thug life” there are similar rules for a member to follow as in the bible. Peter has turned to crime in a city in which he feels he is forced to due to lack of opportunity, this further supports the theory that in a world in which our societies are controlled by white middle class males, people of ethnic origin will be forced to continue to struggle to move up the social hierarchy. Some critics argue however that the most cliched stereotypes are the truest as the majority stereotypes derive from some form of truth.
As mentioned before African American characters in early films were represented in a way that would reflect their treatment in the slave trade, and therefore so do more recent stereotypes. Towards the end of the 20th century many immigrants who came to America came in search of the American dream. They invested in small retail businesses and now according to trade associations, 50,000 to 70,000 of the 140,000 convenience stores in the United States are owned by south Asians, Therefore the image of Farhad is originally a form of reality.
Although these elements can be hugely exaggerated to create a stereotype that is comical and can be mocked. For example Apu in the Simpson’s runs the “Kwik-E-Mart. ” He has many stereotypical traits including: he has a strong work ethic, having a recognisably South Asian name, a strong Indian accent, he is often a victim of crime both children shoplifting, attempting to buy alcohol and armed robbery. Although again this can mirrored in Farhad as he is often a victim of crime.
Most of the representations offered to us in the film are stereotyped characters who do not subvert previous representations or ideologies. However it could be argued that there is a need for these stereotypes. Many large Hollywood production executives would argue that in order for a mass audience to accept a text as reality stereotypes still need to be present to enable an audience to connect with the characters and to find them to be believable.
It is important in many parts of the film for the audience to engage and empathise with characters. In order to generate empathy and to allow the audience to relate to characters there must be a certain degree of identification. This idea explored in the film. Cameron (a black film director) is asked by a colleague to shoot his last scene again because one of the black actors on set isn’t speaking ‘black’ enough, the white director believes that the audience will not recognise the actor as ‘black’ unless he speaks in slang.
Many people who haven’t experienced these ethnic minorities directly in L. A are likely to accept them as reality, thus generating and fueling previous negative ideologies. The alternative stereotype of an African American is offered in “Crash” through the characters of Christine and Cameron. Educated, successful and affluent citizens, Cameron and Christine could be seen to fall into the stereotype of “noble negro”. This is avoided as we get glimpses of a profound relationship in which they are far from a sexless married couple.
We see conflict between them suggesting a more complex relationship than what is presented to us on the surface. This contemporary representation starts to move away from the stereotypical interpretation of an African American couple. However after an unwarranted police stop, Christine is enraged about her husbands refusal to intervene when white cop Ryan uses the pretense of frisking her to feel her up even feeling her crotch.
She harangues against what she sees as a cowardly Uncle-Tomism, whilst he insists he acted the only way he could, that when a white man has power there is no way to win, so you do what you can to survive. This exploitation and suppression of African Americans at the hand of white people would imply that racism is primarily institutional; however the ideology behind the film suggests that discrimination and racist attitudes are down to the people who perpetuate it. For example Officer Ryan verbally abuses Shaniqua (Lorreta Devine, a black case manager at an insurance company.
She bears Ryan’s racism with dignity as he unloads his frustration with the insurance company’s rules about his fathers care onto her, in the form of a livid and ignorant rant against the Affirmative Action Programme. She appears to be a more reasonable principled character in the film. However this is short lived, in a key point at the end of the film. Shaniqua has a car crash were an Asian woman rear-ends Shaniquas car. She then emerges from her car shouting “don’t talk to me unless you speak American. ”
The LAPD is represented by two characters and from two different perspectives. Both of which a subverted though out the movie. One perspective is from that of Officer Ryan. In contrast to his previous wrong doings, fate places Ryan at the scene of a car crash where Christine the woman who he previously sexually attacked is in a life threatening situation. Ryan now subverts his previous stereotype and puts his own life in danger to rescue Christine, even after she hysterically rejects his help.
The juxtaposed perspective is offered by Officer Hanson (Ryan Phillepe. Hanson in contrast to Ryan is compassionate and idealistic. Hanson tries to prevent the incident between Officer Ryan and Christine and throughout the film he tries to uphold his morals. Though he is that character who is most committed to racial justice at the end of the film Hansons fears overcomes justice and he shoots an innocent black man (Peter) (Larenz Tate. Hanson thought he was well intentioned only to find that he harbors a deep-seated form of psychological racism hidden within his consciousness.
This racist view was unbeknown to Hanson, who believed he was an upstanding, understanding individual. His act of racism did not derive form an overt or pervasive discriminatory view on his behalf, but rather from a systematic fear that existed deep within his consciousness, due to years of conditioning us with of archetypal impressions created by the media. It could be argued that Hanson reflects how many of “us” judge by appearances.
The ever-present stereotype of the African American, that we have been conditioned to accept as reality, presents us with a image of a young black male who is a criminal who is much more likely to have a gun in the pocket of their jeans than a religious statue of St Christopher, therefore the film has now revealed the key ideology that every person is capable of intolerance. The depiction and later transformation of many of the stereotypes could be seen to support the theory of the “Other” which proposes that those who are different from the norm (white, heterosexual, middle class males) are often perceived as being the “other”.
This ideology only exists due to white males dominating our influential hegemonic media institutions. They create positive and powerful representations of themselves which as before with Ethnic minorities we are conditioned to accept them as reality. Therefore they continue to maintain the most dominant and powerful positions. The media institution behind a text will have influence over the objective of a movie. Lions gate (distributor and producer) of Crash best known for distributing films too controversial for the large American companies such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and American Psycho.
However a major investor in Lions Gate Films is Yahoo! , who previously has been accused of being racist. Consequently it could be argued that they could have had control of the overall ideology behind the film. All those who challenge the hegemonic ideology forced upon us are represented as negatively and are stereotyped in order to control them. This theory is evident in the film when we see Officer Ryan rescues Christine. The previous racist white male is redeemed by his heroism, while the black woman is reduced to incoherence by the situation and is forced to be silently grateful for his transcendence.
The idea that from each scene a intelligible and blatant moral is expressed purposely provokes the audience to decide if in reality this how prejudice is expressed or if in fact people are more understanding. The reception theory initiated from the work of Hans-Robert Jauss is greatly supported by Hall. This textual analysis focuses on the capacity for compromise and resistance on behalf of the audience. This means that there is an aspect of viewing in which the audience will not passively absorb a text instead they will actively negotiate the meaning.
The meaning will an individual conceive depends on their cultural background, as a result of the background some will accept a text and others will reject it. The reading of the representations could be seen in two ways depending on the beliefs and background of each individual viewer. Paul Haggis stated “I hate as Americans we just love to define people. We love to say “Good person, Bad person. ” “In this film at least I didn’t want us to be judging others. I wanted us to be judging ourselves. This offers us an insight into his original intention for the film, with the idea that the film would revolve around race decided later. The twin elements of accident (literally and figuratively) and coincidence connect the various stories, which are intended to prove that people form harmful prejudices from a combination of impressions and individual psychoses. I believe Ethnic stereotypes play a very significant role in the understanding of the film “Crash”, On either of its two dimensions.
In order to understand the film either on a simplistic representational level, or else seeing the film as an example of maybe considering social conflicts as externalisations of a fundamentally internal crisis, which therefore allow the audience to realise that the complexity found in each character can in fact undermine the entire concept of a stereotype, consequently producing realistic individuals who are surrounded by racial conflict in post 9/11. To understand and examine racial issues in the after math of 9/11 looking towards real life will enable us to predict the stereotypes that may also become hegemonic ideologies in America.