I was a fan of the film “Crash”, but I also realize it was incredibly flawed. Some of the greatest movies made in my eyes are incredibly flawed; films in which the vision of the filmmaker becomes so self-contained that it loses some of the logic or reality and follows more of a poetically emotional path. A couple others for me are “Bladerunner” (my favorite of films), Shyamalan’s “The Village”, and “Lady in the Water”, and “The Life Aquatic: with Steve Zissou”. These films to me retain a certain beauty, a carefree attitude toward what is expected and should be accepted as art in film. There’s a greater level of ingenuity, and originality in these films – moments of humanity that cannot be achieved by the type of filmmaker who sticks so closely to the three act structure. Coppola and Kubrick are the two greatest achievers of this art form whose films are typically not flawed, though I feel “Full Metal Jacket” falls into the latter, and “Eyes Wide Shut” disappears into the ethereal of flawed filmmaking, but I’m getting away from the focus of this Blog: “Crash”.
Many believe “Crash” to be unrealistic in it’s depiction of racial warfare and racism. No one would act out that way in reality or be that vocal about it. They argue that the racism people struggle with is far more subtle and dangerous. The things we keep to ourselves. It’s far more dangerous for a political leader to hate African Americans to himself than it would be to hate them out loud. I understand that. It is a far more realistic a view of the world. Or is it?
Two events occurred recently, one in the media, and one in my life (then we’ll get to the nugget that started this blog.) The first event is … wait for it … wait for it … yes, you’re right, Mel Gibson. Talk about someone who was incredibly vocal about his supposed non-racism. Or is it the Jewish religion he hates so much. That was never made clear to me. Can the religion even remain separate from the race? But here’s your first example of racism gone public, much like the characters in “Crash”. Mel Gibson was in an emotionally volatile state, much like the characters in “Crash”. To me that was the only flaw of “Crash”. Paul Haggis felt like every character in the film had to have a personal moment in which their racism was turned against them. Sandra Bullock’s falling down the stairs spells melodrama to me. There were other moments like that, too many perhaps.
The second instance happened while I was jogging and will probably lead me into a short rant. I had just jogged uphill in this nice quiet area of Los Angeles (surprisingly there are a few.) There’s an opening where several trails converge that’s a stopping ground for hikers, dog walkers, bikers, and severely out of breath joggers (not me, thank you very much). I pulled over to sip from the water fountain, when I hear raised voices. I pull my head up, and begin walking toward them. I see, entering the clearing from the path I take back downhill on a semi-daily basis, is an African American man, shirt off, ripped and a gorgeous Blonde Caucasian woman – two models of outward perfection and beauty.
The African American man refused to look at the woman as they walked, the volume of his voice raised above normal private conversation as if he wanted to embarrass the woman for what she was saying. In fact he was embarrassing himself. “F*** you!” His tirade began. “You’ll never know what it’s like to be black.” That was the gist of his argument. The woman was trying to speak, but he kept cutting her off. I felt a hot coal flame up in my gut, and crawl into my throat, they had passed and I continued on before it reached my tongue, at which point in time I would have set the pretentious prick on fire. “You’ll never know what it’s like to be black,” of all the ignorant prickish things to say to someone. And instead of trying to explain himself, or let her explain what she was saying he put up a pity me wall and hid in his I have a right to feel misunderstood box.
The first question I would have posited to him was “Do you know what it’s like to be a woman?”
“In 2005, women held 16.4 percent of corporate officer positions (those appointed or elected by the board), up just 0.7 percentage points from 2002, according to the study. It counts the number of women in corporate officer, top earner and other executive positions in the Fortune 500. Catalyst measures the Fortune 500 companies because they have the top revenue in the country.” (http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060814/BUSINESS/
“MEXICO CITY, Aug 14 (IPS) – No longer able to bear the physical and emotional violence she endured for years at the hands of her husband, Amelia finally committed suicide – just one more victim of gender violence in Mexico, which cost the lives of more than 6,000 girls and women between 1999 and 2005, according to official statistics.” http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=34338
“FRESH evidence of the persistent pay gap between the sexes emerged yesterday, when a survey revealed male graduates can expect to earn up to £4,000 more per year in their first job than female counterparts.
The study showed that the median starting salary for males who studied part-time is £26,000 a year, compared with £22,000 for female graduates.
Men also fill most of the highest-paid posts, according to the survey of more than 60,000 UK graduates carried out by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).“http://news.scotsman.com/uk.cfm?id=1187532006
Women have to put up with sexual harassment on a daily basis, constantly looked down upon because either they are too beautiful or not beautiful enough which in turn can create the worst kind of insecurity issues that lead to eating disorders and substance abuse. Women are constantly objectified. How much of this does this pity me black man have to go through in this day and age? Maybe he does some of it, but not to the extent that women do.
I would even posit to him that he doesn’t understand what it truly means to be black in the way he would like it to mean, probably not like African Americans some generations back who were actual slaves in the Deep South. People feel that because they are going through something in the here and now that it is the worst it’s ever been. This type of rationale has always bothered me. They have a very short sited view of the world and the history of the human race. What is it he as an individual goes through that Arab and Muslims and anyone who shared a Middle Eastern skin color went through after 9/11 and still are, or the Japanese families living in America during World War II that were taken to camps, or Jews during WWII, or even now have to deal with. Does he understand what it’s like to be gay, and killed because of that? What an egocentric point of view this lonely black man takes. What hatred he holds for those who aren’t the same color he is. Will I ever understand what it’s like to be a color other than white? Why should I have to understand what it’s like to be a color? It’s far more important for me to understand what it’s like to be human. I understand what it’s like to be kicked, and spat on, and hated, and not taken seriously, and not given an opportunity to audition for a role because no matter how great I would be for a part the studios feel they have to be “ethnically diverse”.
Do I understand what it’s like to be black in an age where pity is thrown around like loose change? Maybe, maybe not. Do I understand what it’s like to be him? That’s the question. And my answer would be no, and to be quite honest I don’t want to. I never want to be so closed off to the world around me that I lose site of bigger pictures. I never want to not see something through someone else’s eyes first before deciding how I feel about something in regards to them. I never want to not take the time to make myself understood before falling back on a “f*** you” and throwing up a wall of I deserve to be misunderstood because of what my people went through, and not necessarily what I go through. To me that is this African American man’s problem. In a sense he is just as racist towards himself as anyone else is to him, because he sees himself as first and foremost and only a color. The moment he stops doing that will be the moment people around him begin viewing him under the same light. And this goes for anyone of any color, and not even color, but sex and class and age, anyone who feels like their being put down upon because of some superficial belief that what they are makes them less than anyone else. The people, who will view you this way, don’t deserve to be taken seriously in the first place. You don’t need them as friends, and if they are your bosses, sue the hell out of them.
So, there’s example number two. Does racism only exist as a subtle thought in people’s minds? No, I don’t believe it does, and some people even bring the separation of races and ethnicities down upon themselves by constantly building that wall around them that says they are different and treated poorly because of it. Is it true that perhaps the more dangerous type of racism is the kind that goes unsaid? I can buy that, but it doesn’t become truly dangerous until they act out on it. I think that is what Haggis hand in mind in his film “Crash”, he just over did it a little, and in doing so created some truly genuine and original moments, and more important than anything else, made me think about ways in which I can watch my own subtle racial thoughts, that while may not be filled with hatred, can be filled with simplifications and that’s just as racist as anything else, that’s just as inhuman as anything else, and before I am anything else, I am human.