I’ve run across a lot of criticism of the film Crash lately, so I decided to watch it.
When I got to the end, last night, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. Not just the fuss about the racism, but general fuss. It’s a movie about racial tensions in LA. Well, what else will a movie in LA be about?
Okay, that’s snide, but really, I don’t know that I think the movie warranted that much attention. And then there’s the anti-Asian angle. Angry Asian Man isn’t the only person who thinks that Asians got the short end of the stick in the movie. Maybe it’s arguable: the stereotype of Asians as bad drivers comes up, and it turns out that one of the Asians in the film is a human-trafficker. Of course, a large number of characters come off leaving a bad taste in my mouth: the black car-thieves, the Persian gun-toting shop-owner, the (white!) Russian guy who offers one of the car-thieves money for a truckload of Southeast Asian illegal immigrants, the power-via-racial-politics-obsessed DA and his bitchy wife… just about every character shows some deep, disturbing flaw which helps explain just how screwed up race can be in America.
It brings to mind Lost, about which plenty of Koreans went up in arms because, surrounded by all kinds of shady characters — obvious refugees from the law, con men, and so on — the one Korean male character turned out to be a little too rough and grouchy, and then turned out to be a gangster. I’ve written before about the sexism inherent in that original backlash against the show, in which so many took offense at a nasty Korean male characterwhile ignoring the fact that in the female Korean character Sun was one of the very few unquestionably nice, good-hearted, decent people on the island.
Yes, the Korean man in Crash was a slave trafficker, or so I think. (It’s remotely possible he was paid to help transport those people secretly, but I really doubt it, especially the way he said, “Cash that check right away.”) But the only Russian (I think it was) character I saw was also eager and knew enough to get into the human slave trade in America, so what does that tell you? Isn’t the modern slave trade and the historical one explicitly linked by the way the black carjacker lets the slaves go in Chinatown?
And it’s not like all the other characters are wonderful either. The only Persian man I saw was not only a jerk but an idiot, and attacked a man with a gun instead of trying to understand what the man was telling him. The white people depicted in the film, almost every one of them, turned out to be frightening racists at least half of the time, sometimes more. It seemed to me there was very little to be truly sympathetic towards in any character except maybe Don Cheadle’s family story, and of course the carjacker towards the end.
It seems to me another case of Lost, where a person of one color feels identity with the character of the same color, and complains quickly, and misses the fact that, no, wait, they’re all jerks. And this, too, feels like an extension of the problem of race in America as the film is supposed to depict. When people take offense at what the feel is their depiction on the big screen, it’s always interesting. White people tend not to do this so much, and I do understand that that’s part of what it means to be a member of the “dominant majority” or whatever you call it. And while I agree it’d be really nice to see, say, more blacks in intelligent speaking roles, more Asians who aren’t gangsters, and more depictions of Middle-Eastern characters with, oh, say, and ounce of sympathy, I also think that this kind of thing isn’t going to change just because people complain about it.
Complaining is understandable, but after a while, it comes off as whining instead of as criticism. What Asian Americans need is a generation of people who care about this stuff so much that they start writing and directing films. They can’t depend on whites to reform themselves, because, hey, frankly, dominant majorities don’t tend to do that kind of thing willingly as a group. I know tons of students in Korea who are concerned about the discrimination that Koreans of mixed-race suffer under here, but it’s not going to change on the social level until those mixed-race people rise up and demand respect for themselves. I’m not saying something as stupid as, “Get yourselves a Spike Lee”, but rather, maybe, “Find a way to make self-representation possible.” There’s no avenue for self-expression only if you buy into the idea that the only movies in the world are Hollywood movies. It’s the scramble toward American middle classdom that makes it seem so.
And by the way, blanks can be very destructive at close range. I watched Derren Brown’s Russian Roulette recently, and it’s demonstrated in that program what a blank can do at close range. It certainly could kill a person. I think that little girl would still be dead even if it was blanks that the gun was loaded with.
UPDATE: By the way, I think I’ve realized, after reading some more about the issues of race in media, what the issue is for me: it’s that in general, nonwhites are pretty generally portrayed in pretty skewed ways. And I agree, this is definitely a change that white content producers ought to contribute to, but, you see, they’re TV execs, and that means they’re mostly quite bloody stupid and how can you expect more from them? TV is sh*t, TV is sh*t, repeat it to yourself. Hollywood is mostly sh*t too. It’s made to be comfortable and accessible to the local majority to they can be lulled into the proper kind of trance that will make them more receptive to suggestions by various companies who pay for access to the public’s brains. Remind yourself of that when you get annoyed, when it pisses you off. It’s all just a vehicle for advertising. Finding something that’s more valuable will make a big difference in the long run.
The big key to changing the schlocky mainstream, though, if it actually is imperative to do so, is finding an avenue in if you’re a creator who happens to be a member of one or other skewed minority; if you’re a creator, you will be contributing to the solution more than just being a sullen, resentful consumer. In other words, I would encourage someone like Angry Asian Man to spend his time writing a movie script or novel-to-be-adapted-to-film, instead of spending the energy (and money, and time) on a film industry that isn’t even serving his personal needs. Nobody ever said Hollywood was going to do so. Make it do so, or get into something else. The changes that are coming to media even now, but especially in the next twenty or so years, will mean he’ll be able to do an incredible number of things without Hollywood, which means it’s time to get started on figuring out how to use the tools and how to tell stories that are compelling and worthwhile.