I’ve yet to watch a movie about racism that made me understand why people were racist to begin with. Let there be no illusion, I’m by no means the most tolerant person ever, but I’ve got to have a much better reason for disliking something than the color of their skin or their place of origin. Therefore, my issue with films such as Do the Right Thing is that simply cannot understand the why. Crash takes this problem even farther, giving us a cast of characters who have no reason to be racist and making the most despicably racist people possible.
An amalgamation of characters from various ethnic backgrounds Crash throws together a group of hateful people and lets the audience watch the impending train wreck ensue. Besides being a contrived drama driven by conflicts the film pulls out of thin air, the characters are cardboard cutouts at best. The film might think it’s brilliant by showing us the cutout has two sides, but there is no depth or nuance to the binary existence of this cast.
Not for one moment did I believe any of these characters were real, believable people because their only frame of reference for their entire existence was racism. Maybe people like this exist, but even if they do there should be other factors in their lives that contribute to who they are. In Crash, The defining characteristic of every character is their racism. Therefore, the only interaction the characters have is how they perceive another person’s race.
Even if I concede the point that people like this exist, the film needs to show us why these characters are so racist. Many of them have no good reason to be racist but are anyway. What plants the seed of racism in people’s hearts? What makes it grow and flourish among this cast of characters? The film suggests that perhaps racism perpetuates racism, but when almost every greeting between characters starts off as some racist remark, you have to wonder if this film is based in any kind of reality.
Yet even amid all the horrible swaths of people shooting off n-words and making derogatory statements to Asians, there are a couple of men who exemplify great patience towards the racists that surround them. One is a Hispanic locksmith who’s doing his best to provide for his daughter. His story could have been compelling, but it is concluded in one of the most contrived and corniest solutions to a problem I’ve seen in any film.
The other is a fresh cop who asks to be reassigned after his veteran partner begins to target specific races over others. He tries to help and understand the young black people who are hateful towards the cops. His story is probably the best as his job requires him to expect the worst while he tries to remain optimistic. The conclusion of his tale is perhaps the closest this film comes to having any real emotion.
The big problem is that this cast is unanimously bad. The performers, much like their characters, are one note and forced to deliver heavy-handed, contrived dialogue, wear all their thoughts and feelings on their sleeve and leap through changes that aren’t developed. The worst of the bunch is probably Thandie Newton who cannot pull off a serious or dramatic moment in this film to save her life. Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock are also cringe-worthy as a couple who spout off more racist talk even as they are surrounded and supported by the same ethnic groups. A lot of it is the writing, but great actors could have given some nuance and complexity to these moments instead of just spewing out hateful talk like robots.
And it’s when I watch performances like these and witness moment after moment of unjustified hate that I realize I’ve been watching this film all wrong. This film doesn’t take place in our world, but in some parallel racist fantasy where everyone uses the n-word as a substitute for “hello.” It’s the kind of film that makes Birth of a Nation look gracious and subtle in its racist commentary. I hate films like Crash, because I can’t stand a film where the driving force is hate, blinding the filmmakers to the nuance and complexities of a human being which only leads to more misunderstanding, mistrust and ignorance.
© 2010 James Blake Ewing