Thursday, March 9, 2006

A "Crash" at the Oscars

As you no doubt know by now, Crash took the Best Picture Oscar at the 78th Academy Awards held this past Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles; the film also won for Editing and for Original Screenplay. The honoring of Crash came as a surprise to the people that assumed the top award would go to another film, Brokeback Mountain. Ang Lee, who won the directing prize for Brokeback Mountain, expressed disappointment that his film didn't win the top prize.

I saw Crash shortly after it came out on DVD. I had read a bit of the press surrounding the film and I watched when Oprah had several members of the cast on her show. I knew that critics were responding both positively and negatively toward it. I knew that the film was about racism, and so I assumed that it would focus on white racism - white people having negative images/stereotypes about those of other races. I was surprised to see that the film explored not only negative racial attitudes and behaviors by white people, but by persons of other races as well.

I was pleased that no character was portrayed as solely motivated by racial prejudices, but was shown as multi-faceted. A prime example of this is Matt Dillon's portrayal of Officer Ryan. Ryan's racism is expressly shown in the scene where he pulls over husband Cameron (excellently played by Terrence Howard) and wife Christine (played by Thandie Newton). Ryan believed he had witnessed a sexual encounter between a white woman and a black man; to say that Ryan disapproved of this would be an understatement. After ordering the couple out of the vehicle and discovering the truth about Christine, Ryan sexually assaults her in front of her husband, knowing that Cameron would be effectively powerless to do anything. Later in the film, Ryan is shown expressing great concern over his father's health problems. Ryan also rescues a woman from a potentially deadly car wreck without regard to his own personal safety, only to discover that the woman he rescues is Christine. In other characters as well, Crash showed both hate and love.

Crash shows an exaggerated view of racism, of course. I sincerely doubt that every car crash in L.A. involving person of different ethnic backgrounds results in the persons spewing racial epithets toward each other. But I think the film did a good job in showing that racial stereotypes can be held by anyone, regardless of color. We may not even be aware that some of our views towards others may be racially motivated; after all, the prophet Jeremiah lamented, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" While I certainly don't believe that Crash is on the same level of other films that have won for Best Picture, I was pleased to see that it had won.

Just so you know: I do not plan to see Brokeback, although not for the obvious reason.


RELATED: Annie Proulx, author of the short story on which Brokeback was based, wrote an article for The Guardian discussing her disappointment with Brokeback not winning the Best Picture prize. Poor Annie, she comes across as a big fat whiner - "Wah! How dare you not pick my story as the best! Wah!"

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