Monday, March 06, 2006

Crash and Burn

(Image was unabashedly stolen from Angry Asian Man)

So Crash won the Best Picture last night, in what is the biggest upset of the evening. We thought it was going to be Brokeback Mountain. We all kind of wanted it to be Brokeback Mountain. But Hollywood proves that it really can't handle being as maverick as they claimed to be all night (I'm still wiping the masturbatory, self-congratulatory spunk off my TV screen). Hollywood proves that it's really too afraid of the red-states to give the night's biggest accolade to a movie protested by half the country.

And besides, to Hollywood, Crash was kosher. It was "indie" (in budget only -- it ended up having a wider distribution than Brokeback) and it dealt with what Hollywood felt was a safer issue: race, instead of homosexuality.

Crash was a group piece about racism in America set in busy, urban L.A. in which a light is shed on a bunch of people of colour and their racism and "humanity". It's a fairly simplistic piece, delving no deeper than a "*gasp* *shock* racism still exists" look at race and race oppression issues. It was racism written by a White guy, and chock full of mere stereotypes and standard superficiality when it comes to portraying the "coloured" experience on-screen. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Racist White Guy
  • Racist White Woman
  • Bleeding Heart White Liberal - lower class
  • Bleeding Heart White Liberal - upper class
  • Black Woman with Attitude
  • Angry Black Man
  • Dumb Black Man
  • Sellout Black Man
  • White Flight Black Man
  • Confused Biracial
  • Put-upon non-Arab Brown Person
  • Pulling Himself Up By the Bootstraps Latino (Who Looks Like a Gangsta)
  • Latina housemaid
  • A Whole Lot of Funny, Foreigner Capitalist Asians
  • A Whole Lot of Mute Asian Coolies
And then you make these characters do something out of their stereotype to "turn the stereotype on its ear" or some other nonsense. Except for the Asians, who remain marginalized in the entire movie; we get about ten minutes of screen-time, total, and in that time manage to get ourselves hit by a car, hit another car with our oh-so-hilarious bad driving, Korean accents mocked, appear money-grubbing and greedy, locked in a van, and forced to wander around aimlessly and stupidly looking at all the pretty lights). Did anyone really mistake these caricatures for deep commentary on social oppression? Oh yes, and we must remember that White Hollywood benefits more by applauding Crash over Brokeback. Crash is a feel-good movie for Whites. This film was made for White people -- for a person of colour, it was like watching yourself get ready in the morning; for us, these pedestrian thoughts on racism and oppression is nothing new. But, whereas Brokeback ends off reminding us how painful love between two gay men is made by homophobic, straight-laced White America, Crash does nothing but assuage White guilt by arguing that racism is alright, it's universal. It tells us not to worry about fostering a little bit of prejudice -- everyone does it and that's what makes the world go round. It offers no insight, no analysis, no suggestions, no accusations -- it was a mere two hours of glorifying racial misunderstanding in a desperate quest for pure truth. And the predominantly White audience (except for the couple of misguided minorities, myself included, who were taken in by the previews) can leave the theatre feeling good that they fulfilled their Racism 101 quotient for the evening, get into their 4x4's and drive to their White Flight suburbia only to imagine they now have a better understanding for, Kenesha, their underling secretary of biracial origin when they go to work the next morning and Juanita, the maid they hired to clean their laundry. Maybe they'll get Kenesha an extra bagel for a couple of days and tip Juanita an extra dollar at the end of the week. Maybe. So Crash won the Oscar for Best Picture. The same night that Hollywood gave one of the only Oscars to go to a Black man to a group of rappers rapping about pimps and Memoirs of a Geisha, like Zhang Ziyi herself, were celebrated as aesthetically pleasing but containing no substance. Sure, Hollywood is maverick. They're actually open about how much they hate us. For another commentary on Asians at the Academy Awards, check out Twice is Right and Mixed Media Watch. Also thanks to all those who have linked back to this post.


Blogger jb said...

Good analysis but the black stereotype wasn't turned on its head. Ludacris and Larenz STILL jacked the white couple lending filmic creedence to white fright. Th flat female characters disturbed me as well.

3/06/2006 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger jack (aka angrybrownbutch) said...

great stuff here. i'm totally with you on the masturbatory self-congratulation tip. i was really happy when Jon Stewart said the thing about all social problems ending after films were made about them. someone needed to be snarky about the incessant back-patting.

3/06/2006 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Good analysis but the black stereotype wasn't turned on its head.

I think the intention was to shine some light on stereotypes or some BS. Ultimately, the film merely trades one stereotype for another with each character.

3/06/2006 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger Blackamazon said...

Thank you thank you I did a hit by hit of why I hated the Oscars but thank you for you perspective! I was literally offended all night

3/06/2006 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

First time at your blog, but I must say that I'm so glad someone else found Crash preachy and patronizing as hell. Coupled with George Clooney's self-congratulatory speech a (which I heard on the morning radio show), it would've been enough to have made me puke if I actually tuned in.

3/06/2006 09:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Mac said...

Alot of the white people I talk to hated this movie. On the other hand most of the black people I've talked to about it, loved it. I thought it was just ok. It was kind of a weak to have most of the characters "see the light" by the end of the movie.

3/06/2006 11:42:00 PM  
Blogger yellowbaby said...

White folks (actually two whites and an Asian) are getting it too.

3/07/2006 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger nubian said...

all crash does is let white people feel more comfortable about being racist.

3/07/2006 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger dustdaughter said...

"And besides, to Hollywood, Crash was kosher. It was "indie" (in budget only -- it ended up having a wider distribution than Brokeback) and it dealt with what Hollywood felt was a safer issue: race, instead of homosexuality."

I'm not sure if race is a safer topic of discussion than homosexuality or if the superficial way that race was tackled in Crash just seemed safer than the way gay oppression was portrayed in Brokeback Mountain.

That said, BM is the better film. It stands to reason that the Best Director made the Best Film, so Ang Lee should have won both statues. But like you said, the Academy Awards are a self-congratulatory spectacle that means less and less as the years go by. Lee will continue making artistic, meaningful motion pictures and Paul Haggis will go back to writing simplistic fare like Walker, Texas Ranger.

3/07/2006 02:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

consider the qualification you placed on the outward appearance of the Latino: While "gangsta" may have been the interpretation of the white audience, yet even the intent of the writers, your parenthetical influence serves little to deconstruct the criminalization of young latino males.

3/08/2006 12:47:00 AM  
Blogger NursePam said...

I found Crash to be weak, disappointing, and uninspiring. To point out that people of color are racist is worse than gratuitous violence. It's gratuitous mind f**king. Frankly, I thought Ang Lee would make a better film than this one.

As a white woman, I have to agree with Nubian. I walked away from the film saying "Self. It's not good. It's gonna let a whole lot of white folks say 'See! It's not just us."

3/08/2006 09:47:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Just a clarification, Ang Lee directed Brokeback Mountain. Can't really blame him for the travesty that is Crash.

To anonymous, I'm not sure I understand your point. Are you saying that qualifying him as the "Deep Gangsta" stereotype is unfair? And if so, how?

3/08/2006 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point is that "Gangsta" should not be qualified on outward appearance but rather on distinctively clear signs of gang life. Man kills man; man goes back to other similarly dressed friends: that is one variation of "gangsta" and in turn needs to be criticized if uncritically presented. On the other hand, I believe that the film did not allude to any gang involvement on the part of the Latino, but it did leave viewers with the choice to interpret tattoos and a shaved head as such. From the vantage poing of folks justifiably criticizing the film, I thought that the "Gangsta" projection was thus unfair and based on "following" the option tattoos and the shaved head left viewers. The criminalization I mentioned has to do with unjustified projections like this that society and systematic racism projects invoke when a "dangerous" figure "lurks" or even walks down the proverbial "block/street/alley".

3/08/2006 04:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

Thanks for this review, its fantastic... we've linked to it at our modest movie review site, hope you don't mind!

3/09/2006 01:38:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I'm so glad to hear so many people bashing crash. As a white person, after watching it I felt slightly introspective. That's not a challenge at all. Usually when I've been educated or challenged for my fuckedupedness I come away angry (usually at the source of the challenge, because I've got a big ol' white ego) but this movie did none of that.

If a movie about racism doesn't piss off white people, what's the use?

3/09/2006 02:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

To anonymous, I agree that there was no behavioural marker suggesting that the character was indeed part of a gang or not. However, what was important to the movie was his appearance -- he resembled what Sandra Bullock's character interpreted as a "gangsta" and thus my description of his stereotype rings true. In my bulleted list, I in no way claim that he is actually what Sandra Bullock thinks he looks like.

To Andrew, thanks for the link!!

3/10/2006 12:14:00 PM  

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