The movie Crash is a paradoxical and a circular look at racism and class. Sometimes showing characters who exhibit extreme racial prejudice and then proceeding to have them do something one would consider noble and heroic. In this paper I will be outlining the main points in which the movie uses multiple sources to convey a complex individual. A person who is shaped by racism and then proceeds to shape others with their version of racism.
The movie goes out of its way to depict everyone as person who believes that their beliefs and stereotypes are justified by the previous encounters they or their loved ones have experienced in their lives.
More than once making it seems as if the racism they experienced was because of their own actions. I will be discussing four main points from the movie that depict this behavior. I will cover the carjacking by the Anthony and Peter, the sexual assault by Officer John Ryan, the murder by Officer Tom Hanse, and Detective Graham Waters selling out justice for public opinion.
I will discuss all their bigotry ideals and their justifications for their actions, as well as their redemption arcs, or at the very least, their attempt at redemption arcs. In doing so I will demonstrate how each individual plays into racism by either accepting the status quo or over correcting for the injustice they have perceived in their own lives.
Anthony and Peter are two African American, gentleman who at the beginning seem to have a very valid point at the racism they experience every day.
First pointing out how when a waitress sees a man of color, they immediately believe they will not tip well, so they do not receive good service based solely on a stereotype. Anthony then informs Peter that they are surrounded by white people and yet a white woman, Jean Cabot, will still feel threatened just at the mere glance of a black person on the street. The movie pontificates a bit in this scene before taking a back step and showing some justification for the unbiased stereotypes.
First pointing out that the waitress was also black and may not have had a prejudice against Anthony and Peter, and then by having the two of them carjack the white couple that walked by them. Now according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics around this time, carjacking’s were committed by males 93% of the time and 56% of these were committed by black males between the years of 1993 and 2002. So it would seem the movie is implying that Jean is justified in her assumption that if she were to be attacked, statistically it would be a male of African American decent. And as Anthony is discussing intolerance against his race on one hand, he pulls a gun with the other. In an ironic twist, proving Jean’s fears and racial stereotypes to be true.
The movie seems to be showing how feeding a stereotype over and over again, will inherently create that stereotype. Anthony even claims he would never take from another black individual, feeding more and more into a segregated way of thinking. Believing it is the only way for his people to stop being oppressed and alienated by others.
We then proceed to Officer John Ryan. In the movie John is introduced on the phone talking to an African American woman in a disrespectful and racial way. As the movie proceeds, John pulls over a black couple, who are complying with the officers at every behest. And John still unnecessarily holds his power of authority over Christine and Cameron Thayer. Forcing the couple against the car and sexually assaulting Christine. As the scene progresses John forces Cameron to apologies, even though John is the only one in the wrong. The movie seems to be trying to show that someone from the black community, no matter their class or affluence, all fear the police and for good reason. When at home Christine wishes Cameron would have defended her, but Cameron tells her he didn’t want any one of them to get shot.
Whereas police are often depicted as hero’s and protectors in other film, in this movie, they are shown as prejudice towards the African American community. The movie is trying to convey a feeling of uneasiness and dread for any African person pulled over by the police. The police are supposed to “Protect and Serve” but in this demonstration they only harass and terrorize. And then the movie back steps again and shows the same prejudice and racist officer John Ryan, doing something heroic and selfless for a woman of African descent. The exact same woman as the previous night before, Christine. As John tries to help Christine out of a soon to be blown up car, he sees his racism fight against him as now Christine no longer even wants his help. Asking, begging for anyone but him.
After saving her life, Christine is grateful but it doesn’t seem like she will ever get over the previous night. The director seems to be trying to make John into a sympathetic character by providing a back story about how his father lost everything to the governments involvement in fixing racism. John’s father losing his business to something resembling affirmative action. Especially after according to John, his father has done a lot for the African American community. I personally don’t believe you father losing a business gives you a right to be racist and abuse your power or that doing your job and saving someone’s life redeems you from past mistakes. But it seems the movie wants to show, that even someone filled with anger and bigotry, can still make a difference for the better in someone’s life.
We then move on to Officer Tom Hansen, who is the former partner of the aforementioned officer John Ryan. Tom is there for the sexual assault of Christine and asks to be transferred into another cop car. His lieutenant, a black male, informs him, not so subtlety, that calling an officer with a long history on the force, a racist would not look good for the lieutenant career. That subversion of fighting for the right cause over personal pursuit is intriguing. It goes as so far as for Tom to request a transfer under “personal reasons”, that he knows will get him ridiculed. After being put into his own vehicle, Tom finds himself at another scene with Cameron. Cameron, who is now lashing out from the previous night’s lack of action from himself, looks as he is ready to go down in a gun fight. Officer Hansen goes out of his way to convince both Cameron and the other responding officers to stand down.
At first glance you think that Tom is just trying to be a good person or even make up for his inaction against something he felt was wrong. But the movie takes yet another back step, showing that even a man who tries to be good and just, may still have his assumptions and prejudices against people. When Tom is finally heading home, he picks up a hitchhiker, Peter. Who was involved in another carjacking and this one did not go as well. At first Tom and Peter get along, but when both of their opinions about one another seem to get in the way they both start acting aggressively towards each other. When Tom tells Peter to show what’s in his hands, Peter reaches in to show a statue of the patron saint of travelers in his pocked, Tom mistakes it for a gun and shoots him.
This scene seemed to have a lot of subtext to me. Tom seemed to be immune to racism and stereotypes, going so far as to pick up a stranger in the middle of the night that was hitchhiking. But as the drive continues Tom becomes nervous around Peter and when Peter goes to show a statue that he carries is the same statue Tom has in his car, Tom shoots him for thinking he had something dangerous in his hands. Peter was trying to show what two strangers had in common and Tom made the assumption that it was something that was detrimental to him. In the end letting his fears and racism kill a young man who he was at first trying to help.
Detective Waters was a compelling character. Seeming to be indifferent to most things but, nevertheless pursuing justice regardless of class, racism, or gender. When an undercover cop (Conklin), shoots another black undercover officer (Lewis), having two other suspicious killings of African American males, people begin to assume that this was done out of racism. When Detective Waters, an African American, finds out that the deceased undercover cop had money stashed away in his tire, Waters begins to think that Lewis caused the shooting and racism did not play a part in Conklin’s decision. However, the district attorney wants Waters to suppress evidence so that they can convict Conklin and avoid looking insensitive to the African community. All this so that the district attorney can wi a reelection bid.
Waters initially refused to convict an “innocent” man, I say innocent in quotations because it is heavily implied that Conklin is actually a racist, but when the attorney say they can clear Water’s brothers record, he agrees to withhold the information. This part seemed to show the public opinion matters more to politicians and people of power than the truth. The district attorney goes out of his way to secure the black vote. Dealing with people like pawns rather than treating them like people. More concerned with reelection than finding the truth of a murder. Waters is even offered a position as the district attorney’s investigator, mostly for the fact that the DA wants that position filled by a person of color. This seemed to be the movie showing how the people at the top don’t seem to care about the minorities unless it can help them secure a reelection ballet.
The movie Crash seemed to have a lot to say towards racism and prejudice. Always asking if the person was justified in their actions or if their actions were the reasons the prejudice existed. Using Anthony to represent his disillusion with the system that was trying to oppress him and in the same breath having him be exactly the stereotype he was fighting against. Anthony even showed his side of racism by refusing to rob anyone that was of African descent. Crash used John to show that even racist, bigots could do something kind and noble for someone of a different race. John’s anger towards minorities seemed to be the explained from his lack of something or someone to direct it towards. Because no matter how much John blamed black people for his father’s suffering, they did not cause his health problems.
Tom seemed to be the most innocent of everyone. Trying to see the best in everyone and not cause trouble. But his lack of conviction still allows a racist officer to remain on the force as well as a supervisor who cares more about his career progression than how people are treated. But even when Tom tried to be a good person an assumption of character and intent got a young man killed. Detective Waters seemed to realize at the end that politics matter more than the truth to the people of power. And more often than not, the truth seems to get in the way of the narrative. I personally think Crash seemed to ask the same question in a lot of different ways. Are we a product of our stereotypes or are our stereotypes a product of us?