The SkywalkerSwartz Blog

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Crash Into Stereotypes

I just finished watching Crash, an ensemble film likely to win a number of awards (including, perhaps, the Oscar for Best Picture?) this year. WARNING: Spoilers below if you haven't seen the movie!

Oscar-Made Ensemble Films

To me, the film had a similar feel to the less popular Thirteen Conversations About One Thing--a bunch of random folks end up having connections to each other in an artsy way. This style of film (the random-ensemble-comes-together, vice just a film with an ensemble cast) seems to be growing in popularity especially amongst Oscar contenders, with such titles as Love Actually, Magnolia, and Pulp Fiction.

Preachy or no?

At first the movie seemed like yet another can't-we-all-just-get-along several-hour exercise to show that "racism is bad." However, once two of the characters simultaneously bad-mouth and live up to the stereotype that "young black men cruising a white suburb must be up to no good" I knew the film was more complex.

Indeed, each person defies a stereotype in one way or another: The "good" non-racist cop kills a Black man, the "bad" racist cop saves a Black woman's life. The "gang-banger" Latino ends up being a tender father, the "hoodlum" black car thief ends up saving a truckload of immigrants from slavery. The "hothead" Persian store owner sees the light; the "Latin-bashing" rich white woman realizes her Latina housekeeper is her best friend. By the end of the film, each of the characters suprises you in some way or another.

Asians get screwed again

However, one group never gets any multi-dimensional characters or moves beyond conventional stereotypes: Asians. Despite LA being chock full of Asians, there are basically only two kinds of Asians in the film: FOBs (represented by the Korean couple who each get into an accident) and Nerds (represented by the inspector who tells the Persians that the insurance company won't pay them back).

The only "suprising" the Asian characters do is not be Chinese: the "chinaman" under the truck is Korean, and the "chinamen" in the truck are Southeast Asian. (As the director mentions in the DVD commentary, this "not all Asians are Chinese" falls in line with the "not all Latinos are Mexican" and "not all Middle Easterners are Arab" theme.) Other blogs noticed the same thing. Although the movie has aspirations of initiating dialogue about stereotypes and racism, at least where Asians are concerned, it merely replays the same old schtick.

Linguistics and racism

African American Vernacular English (or AAVE) plays an interesting role in one scene: Tony Danza, in a cameo as a TV producer, comments that one of the characters isn't talking "Black" enough. The film sets up his comment as thinly veiled racism, but I disagree: Perhaps the way he said it--"Eddie's supposed to be the smart one, not Jamal," thus equating AAVE with stupidity--was wrong, but it's true that some characters (just like some people) speak more "standard"/white English than others. Most African-Americans drift easily between the two linguistic forms, but it does "ring false" (as Danza's character points out) if a character who always speaks in AAVE suddenly sounds like a WASP-y Harvard grad.

Never saw the film, and so can't comment, except to say: I like your analysis.

And it's true about asians. That they're all the same, I mean.
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