Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Winner "Crash"'s Tolerance has Its Limits

Discussion on Mixed Media Watch

Crash on Tavis Smiley's program here

Liz and I kind of half-heartedly watched the Oscars tonight--she was studying and I wrote while half-paying attention to what was going on.

I was happy to see Ang Lee's victory in the best director category--he did a masterful job making "Brokeback Mountain", a movie I want to revist in a later write-up.

Liz was also elated to see her favorite actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, take the Best Actor award. We especially liked his acceptance speech in which he shared some moments from his childhood to show love to his mother, who raised him and his three siblings by himself. I hope people remember that the next time they get the itch to demonize single parents. Also, I think it demonstrates how much better entertainment the Awards are when it's not all canned dialogue and people all giving each other Masturbatory Back-Slaps.

We did feel a little disappointment with the multiple awards given to "Crash", a movie that was long on self-promotion by the director, who really believed that he had made some kind of miracle work.

We went to see it in the theatres when it first came out and we quite underimpressed. There were three main problems we had with it:
The writers were really trying their best, but they came up short in the empathy department. The racist whites were portrayed empathetically, and some of the other characters as well, but not all of the them. The couple of Asian descent were especially poorly portrayed, as they were one-dimensional stereotypes. Seriously, I know they live somewhere in there, but have the filmmakers actually been awake and in LA? I think there are some real Asian Americans for them to model three-dimensional characters after...

The handling of the sexual assault was especially bad. We didn't buy that saving someone's life would make up for the initial assault and in a way, it seemed like a cheap ploy by the writers to justify a rape fantasy. The victim's response, while well acted seemed utterly ridiculously written and was rather upsetting.

Finally, the crowd response was not what the filmmakers had promised. The predominantly white crowd did not seem the least bit introspective on issues of race and rather laughed at many of the racist stereotyping in the film and didn't seem the least bit uncomfortable about that. They practically cackled with glee as misfortune befell the characters.

In the end, we tried to view the movie in perspective--we are all seekers to become better citizens, but perhaps it was aimed at people with a more shallow understanding of race issues. I wanted to believe the filmmaker that perhaps without that deeper empathy, the film would still reach mainstream Americans who were complicit with institutional racism, but the message didn't even seem to reach that point. It basically was just a "there's racism around and none of us is perfect on this, except the filmmakers" message, but didn't challenge anyone to explore or initiate the dialogue it promised.

Seeing the filmmakers tell their anecdotes about shallow racial awakenings like they were some kind of parables made me think of "Aren't I a special white boy?" syndrome. I especially found the scenes of a black couple on screen debating "blackness" with words written by others, creepy. It didn't bother me that the writers were white. It bothered me that they seemed to not have a deeper understanding and happened to be white.

I'm sick of people, including white people themselves, treating whites like they are special just for doing anything when it comes to the issues of race. Racial inequities hurt everyone, including the ethnic majority group. They should be as enthusiastic to learn about these issues as anyone else. In my opinion, to pat them on the head for poor achievement is patronizing and not respectful to white folks.

I don't want "Crash" to win "they aren't total morons on race and that's awesome" awards. I want to see it challenged as the filmmakers were when they appeared on Tavis Smiley's program. Smiley did a great job getting Maxine Waters and another community activist to challenge the filmmakers to see that these racial issues are daily and constant for much of the community.

And I guess that's where I feel like I should step back. Because although they were overmatched, didn't appear to entirely do their homework, and seemed to be writing from a place where privilege was limiting their empathy, they still did have to write the movie and for the few days on Smiley's show they were actually discussing it on a level to educate people. Even if that's as far as it went, it's still something that they deserve credit for. After all, how many movies even do that much for our society plagued with race problems, but scared to death to talk about or even acknowledge their existence?

But still, even in the Smiley discussion, they avoid the fact that the film for all its parading of "tolerance" has no interest or empathy left for Asian Americans.

Angry Asian Man had explains in detail some of his concerns about the 1-dimensional depictions of Asian Americans here.

Meanwhile, Memoirs of a Geisha won three Oscars for some nerdy technical shit. It still sucked as a movie and as an atrocious vehicle for Orientalist fetishization. What does it tell you when you get a great sound and music crew, sets and costumes staff and your movie STILL totally reeks?


Blogger Gar said...

Word up... great analysis, man.

While "Crash" is definitely a step up from your average trashy Hollywood movie, there's still plenty of room for improvement. I find I get irritated when some people (white people and AsianAms) declare it to be the "greatest movie about race EVER" when clearly, there's some serious flaws.

2:01 AM  
Blogger xian said...

Well, if anything, it probably just means they haven't seen enough movies about race.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Memoirs of a Geisha would have won a boatload of Oscars if it didnt suck so much. It had all the momentum when it came out (beautiful movie, good story, good cast and director, Spielburg behind it). But the 'adapted' screenplay was poor and I mentioned on my blog that perhaps it came out a few years too soon where the actors were not ready to tackle such a big english role.

9:24 AM  

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