Crash is a movie that was released in 2004 and depicts numerous intercultural barriers and diversity problems impacting the society today. Haggis uses superb examples of stereotyping, prejudice and racism in the movie to show how these historical vices have continued to impact on the behavior and decisions of people (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). It is no doubt that the belief maintaining that certain racial groups are more superior than others continues to persist in the American society, which has resulted in differential treatment towards stereotyped people. High rate of social segregation in America based on race, gender and class has inevitably led to antagonisms and conflicts amongst people of various ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. This point is also confirmed by Feagin (2000) who states that racism is deeply rooted within America which is evident by the subjugation, as well as historical slavery of people of color. It is unfortunate that this vice has been inherited from one US generation to the other, making it a part of the American life as seen in workplaces, residential areas, schools among others.
Through the movie “Crash”, Haggis takes a look into the emotionally charged topics that continue to affect the societies negatively, such as stereotyping, yet nobody wants to talk about them in public. The film follows the intersection of the lives of fifteen people with diverse cultures, indicating how conflicts arise from narrow-minded and prejudicial assumptions regarding racial identity. There is no better place to examine cultural diversity than Los Angeles. Within just twenty four hours, two black men Peter and Anthony steal a SUV belonging to the wealthy white couple, Jean and Rick Cabot (Rick is the district attorney of Los Angeles). Later, a motor vehicle that belongs to Cameron, a rich black television director, and his wife Christine Thayer looking similar to the stolen car is pulled over from the highway by Sergeant Ryan and his colleague, Tom Hansen (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). Shortly, several of the above characters get mixed up with a Latino locksmith, Persian storekeeper, as well as the dating police detectives, and the result is confrontation that turns into an emotionally charged and violent display of racism. Haggis has crafted a rigorous script, which successfully keeps the tension in the film close to boiling point, accompanied by physical expressions of hatred and harsh verbal assaults that leave the viewer glued to the screen in constant demand for a closer examination at of belief systems and attitudes, as well as a feeling of disgust towards some characters. I must admit that the first moments as I watched Crash, I was shocked at how the characters’ statements were full of racism and sexual slurs which something made me very uncomfortable. However, I realized that the author of the movie script included the racist sentiments intentionally to engage and challenge the viewer in realizing how real racism is. In addition, the provocative manner in which the movie is depicted makes the stories of the characters even realer. Haggis portrays all the characters in the movie as human beings with flaws, just like in real life situation, and this makes the movie easy to relate to people at a personal level. For example, Sergeant Ryan molested a black woman in his show of racial dominance and power, but ended up saving the same woman. This indicates that despite the characters being flawed, they also have their good side. This paper analyses a theme of stereotyping and prejudice in the movie Crash, as depicted in Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi.
In Whistling Vivaldi, Steele (2010) looks at the role played by identity contingencies such as racism, stereotypes and stereotype threats within the wider society. Steele’s personal encounter with racial prejudice occurred when he was at the age of seven. It came to his attention that he was black after realizing that black kids were given access to the neighborhood swimming pool only on Wednesday afternoons. Additionally, he was denied a job offer at a local golf course just because he was an African American. Steele also provides examples of stereotyping of certain groups within the society and the way it impacts the concerned parties. For instance, Brent Staples, the movie depicts a youthful and casually-dressed African American male who was walking along Hyde Park streets in Chicago only to realize that his mere presence instilled fear of violence amongst the whites who were near him. It was connected with the negative stereotype that has associated males from the African American community with violence. The result of this stereotype is withdrawal from the public eye as evident in Staples’s case. This is just an example of the way stereotyping and racism affect people.
Analysis of Stereotyping and Prejudice in Crash
Whites have been stereotyped by the society as superior beings compared to their black and minority counterparts with regard to economical and social status. This presumption is very well depicted in the movie where the major white characters have high economic and social status in the society. For example, Jean and Rick Cabot are wealthy socialites in Los Angeles, with Rick being the L.A. district attorney. The situation is the same for the policemen Ryan and his partner who work at the Los Angeles Police Department (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). It is worth pointing out that all the important white characters are depicted as financially and socially secure. In contrast, despite Cameron being a rich television producer, he is not socially secure. This is a portrayal of the society’s opinion towards blacks as poor or socially powerless.
From the onset of the film, racial stereotyping is evident when Jean clings to her purse and gets closer to Rick, her husband, upon seeing two black males, Peter and Anthony walking in their direction. It is the utter stereotype which associates African American males with violence that made Jean to develop fear for the black males, even if Peter and Anthony never had ill-intentions towards the couple. Unfortunately, they noticed Jean’s reaction which made them realize that they are black males, who according to the society, ought to be engaging in violent activities. Steele (2010)describes stereotype threat as the tendency of a person to be influenced by the negative stereotypes regarding his or her social category like age, race, nationality, mental capability, gender and sexual orientation among others. It is clear that the actions, Peter and Anthony of hijacking the SUV of the rich white couple, were the result of being influenced by negative stereotype, a concept that Steele refers to as stereotype threat. Though the hijacking may not have been in Peter and Anthony’s intentions, the act validates Jean’s prejudgment towards black males. To me, this is clearly an approval of white racism by Haggis. When he allows two blacks to steal from the Cabots, it proves a viewer that their opinions regarding African American males being violent-prone is actually right. Therefore, racial discrimination is a necessary evil that the society has to live with. In College English, Ray (2007) also condemns this scene because it tends to encourage racism and portray whites as superior to other races.
Consequently, Jean wants the door locks changed because she fears that her home may be robbed by black men. Rick acts on his wife’s demand and immediately hires a Mexican man to replace the locks, but Jean becomes really upset when she gets downstairs and sees the man (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). Blatant racism is seen in Jean’s remarks when she says that Daniel might sell the new set of keys to his homies; an indication of her mistrust to Mexicans. It is worth noting that stereotyping causes anger, fear and intolerance amongst the stereotyped group. From the film, it is clear that Anthony is rebellious and over-sensitive towards white people. It is revealed, for instance, when he says that they frequently car-jack whites; however, he has never stolen from his fellow blacks. This is an indication that when people are stereotyped with bad qualities, it impacts their behavior in a situation associated with this stereotype. In addition, it may be possible that stereotyped people just act in line with their respective stereotypes as a way of expressing their disrespect and anger towards the society.
The Mexican locksmith is another victim of prejudgment and stereotyping. In the movie, he is depicted as a good-hearted, family-oriented and quiet man. All through the film, however, the society views Daniel as a menace and gangster, which is an indication of the pre-determined belief of the society towards him. Just because Daniel does not dress well or look well-groomed to the expectations of other personages in the movie, make them form a prejudicial opinion of him. This is a clear example of stereotyping based on presumed differences. Jean’s mean remarks showing her mistrust of Daniel vividly shows that stereotyping can affect people’s behavior towards others.
The American society may have swept issues like racial discrimination and stereotyping under the carpet, but their existence cannot be ignored if the dream of a free and all-inclusive America is to be realized. The conversation between Anthony and Peter outside the cafeteria depicts the discriminatory and racial nature of Americans. When they get out of the restaurant, Anthony told Peter, “Did you see any white people waiting an hour and minutes for a plate of spaghetti? And how many cups of coffee did we get? Man, that woman poured cup after cup to every single white person around us. But did she even ask you if you wanted any?” (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). In this scene, Anthony and Peter feel discriminated by the waitress (who is also black) because of their color.
Another instance where stereotyping and prejudice are witnessed is in the case of Cameron and Christine as they drive home from a party and a white policeman Ryan stops them for no reason. In my opinion, he stops them just because they are black. It becomes evident from his subsequent actions where he exploits the privilege of being male, white and having societal power because of his position as a police officer. After ordering them out of the car, Sergeant Ryan examines Christine from her legs up to her fingers, making sure that her husband Cameron sees everything. Cameron is reluctant to intervene in order to put a stop to his wife’s violation because he fears the legal outcome of challenging a white policeman. I felt very irritated by the indecent search Sergeant Ryan performed on Christine. Ryan knows that whatever he does to this black couple, they cannot fight back because the law and society are on his side. His white counterpart is equally racist for failing to stop Ryan even though he knows that his act is inappropriate. Therefore, it may be right to say that stereotyping blacks as less superior to whites gave Ryan the white power to assault Christine indecently.
It is worth pointing out that the past negative experience of Sergeant Ryan with another black female Shaniqua made him have pre-determined to stereotype regarding all black women. In fact, it was Ryan’s fault that a black woman who was the secretary at the physician’s office refused to assist him. From the film, one can see how Ryan ridicules Shaniqua’s name while talking to her on the phone (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). When one needs people’s help and they end up mocking him or her, there are high chances that the other person will get angry and not be willing to help just like Shaniqua did. Even though Ryan later apologizes to her in person, it does not erase the damage of the racist image he already created in the viewer’s mind about him. Just because Shaniqua refused to help Ryan get healthcare for his ailing father, is does not give a sufficient reason for him to discriminate against all black American women. In my opinion, it is outright stereotyping and prejudice because Christine has totally nothing to do with the black woman who refused to assist Ryan in the past. It is vital to note that prejudice, intercultural barriers and racial stereotyping do impact people in a negative manner, thus influencing their conducts, as well as relations with others. Forming prejudiced opinions of other people who are different from us denies all of us a chance to know each other better and appreciate one another’s diversity. I believe that Sergeant Ryan’s stereotyping of all black women influenced his behavior towards Christine and that without his bad experience in the past with an African American female, probably, his treatment towards Christine would have been much better.
The scenes that occur amongst Farhad, store proprietor from Middle East, and the Mexican locksmith Daniel shows that the prejudice and stereotyping common in white-black relationships are also experienced by other races, and most of the time it results in regrettable ending as seen in the movie. For instance, when Farhad accompanied by Dorri (Farhad’s daughter who is a doctor at a morgue) walks to the gun shop to purchase a gun, the white male who owns the gun shop automatically assumes that they are Arabs. The shop owner overhears them speaking in their vernacular language regarding the bullets they want for the gun to be bought, and immediately links them to the 9/11 attacks. Here is what the old owner of the gun store said to Farhad, “Yo, Osama! Plan a jihad on your own time”, “You’re liberating my country. And I’m flying into your mud huts and incinerating your friends?” (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). The racist insults really angered Farhad who had to be removed from the store forcefully by security guards. This picture clearly reaffirms the hostility that white Americans have towards people from Middle East residing in the U.S. after the 9/11 attack. Even if Farhad has nothing to do with what takes place in Iraq, the frustration and hatred towards the attackers of 9/11 has made Americans stereotype all Arabs as terrorists.
We also see Farhad’s store broken into and all his walls covered with graffiti. He hires Daniel, the locksmith from Mexico, to repair the lock, which he does; however, before leaving, we see Daniel advising Farhad that the broken back door needs a replacement. However, the latter misunderstands this statement and begins to shout at Daniel calling him a cheater. Following the vandalization of the store, we see Farhad thinking that the store may have been vandalized because the thieves thought they were Arabs instead of Persians. This is an indication of hatred towards Arab following the 9/11 attack, which has led to the general stereotyping of all people who are Arabs or look like them. With the constant shouting and lack of payment for his service, Daniel goes home frustrated. After a while, we see Farhad’s store being broken into; an act that devastates him making him vent his anger on Daniel, who, according to him, is to blame for the burglary. The store keeper traces Daniel to his residence and waits for him outside to return home from work. When Daniel gets home, Farhad holds a gun on his head and demands that he pays him the cash to repair his vandalized store. Upon Daniel’s failure to obtain the money, he shoots him only to see Lara (Daniel’s daughter) jumping into the arms of her father in order to protect him from the shooting (Haggis & Moresco, 2004). Fortunately, both father and daughter are unharmed. Due to the fact that Daniel is stereotyped as a gang member by the other characters in the film, it is easy for Farhad to suspect him in the crime and vandalism that occurred in his store. His outward appearance of shaved head and a tattooed body made him fit in the stereotypical picture of a gangster.
It is evident from the incidents that take place between Daniel, Farhad and the owner of the gun shop that discrimination lies in us. People have the tendency of carrying stereotypical images of others, leading to prejudicial opinions and unwarranted acts of racism being targeted on stereotyped groups. Stereotyping based on class, race or gender may perhaps take long to overcome, but such films as, Crash come in handy to challenge people to embrace diversity and shun indifferent treatment towards certain groups of people.
To conclude, Crash is a very provocative, yet insightful movie that brings to light the topic of racism and stereotyping that the society prefers to remain silent about. Through numerous examples, Haggis shows viewers how stereotyping and racism can influence the conduct and actions of people. In the current world that is highly globalized, there are high chances that people of various backgrounds are bound to meet at some point in their lives, and that is why intercultural barriers are not necessary. Regardless of difference in culture, gender, race and religion, all human beings need one another to survive in this world. However, the cruel reality is that it will take a while for people to learn to embrace diversity. The film helps to open people’s eyes to the prejudice, racism and stereotyping that has become a part of today’s society. The film’s story assists in deconstructing the society’s attempt to label and categorize people permanently in a certain manner. People need to create more opportunities to “crash” on one another in order to realize how wrong their uninformed stereotyping and hasty generalizations of others can be. By encouraging more intercultural communication, we will learn to appreciate other people’s differences and, eventually, mutual respect will be attained. It is my belief that with time, people will learn to break away from the societal norms that label the others based on class, race, and gender, and treat each other with brotherly love.
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