This paper will investigate and review the motion picture Crash that I recently watched. During the course of this paper, I will be identifying the four theories (prejudice, stereotype, collectivistic culture and individualistic culture) and discussing said theories while providing movie examples that support those theories. I will conclude the paper by noting that although issues such as prejudice and stereotyping exist and affect all of us we can overcome the negative as evidenced by the characters of the movie, Crash.
The movie, Crash, revolves around the issues of race and social tensions in the city of Los Angeles, California. The ethnicities that are affected include Middle Eastern (Persian), African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics and Asians. Throughout the movie I noticed and viewed how different races and ethnicities react with other races. Specifically, in certain scenes I was able to see what each character thinks of other races and I learn that even though the characters are victims of racism these same victims have their own misconceptions in different situations and circumstances. Crash connects the character’s lives based on happenstance, fate, and luck. Ultimately, the main character’s lives interweave amongst one another where we learn that each character has his or her misconceptions regarding racism, stereotyping and prejudice and these assumptions and misconceptions prevent them from seeing a genuine person standing in front of them.
Throughout the movie, I recognized that each character jumps to conclusions based on race and the characters pay a price for these assumptions. Fortunately, these characters learn things are not always as they seem amidst learning about themselves as well. In the end, the characters, of the movie, become better people because of their respective experiences in the movie.
The first theory that I observed in the film is stereotyping. According to Neuliep (2006), “stereotyping involves members of one group attributing characteristics to members of another group” (p. 189). These types of attributions typically carry a positive or negative connotation and within the United States race and gender are the two most stereotyped groups. Within the movie Crash, there are many examples of stereotyping. Specifically, in the beginning of the movie Sandra Bullock’s character, Jean Cabot, blatantly stereotypes against Michael Pena’s character, Daniel Ruiz, a locksmith who is changing the Cabot’s locks after being carjacked earlier in the night. While Jean’s nerves are still high strung, she notices Daniel is of Hispanic descent. In addition to his race, she notices that he has a shaved head and tattoos. Jean loudly claims, so that Daniel can hear, that the locksmith is a “gangbanger” and will sell the new keys to his supposed gang member friends. As we see later on in the film this is far from the case as Daniel is a true family man who moved his family out of a bad area and into a nicer area.
Unfortunately, Jean Cabot’s cognitive representations of another group (in this case Hispanics) influenced her feelings towards that group. Additionally, Jean Cabot’s stereotyping was an automatic information processing strategy which is the unintentional and/or instinctive activation of thoughts that that have been learned through stimulation in memory (Neuliep, 2006, p.193). These automatic processes are typically unconscious and are triggered by environmental stimuli in this case when Jean Cabot sees Daniel Ruiz is a Hispanic. Another example of stereotype during the movie was the interaction between the gun store owner and Farhad, a man of Persian descent, who is buying a gun for protection of his store his family owns.
The gun store owner gets upset that Farhad and his daughter, Dorri, are speaking their native language, Farsi and calls Farhad “Osama” and tells him to “plan his jihad on his own time” even though Farhad is an American citizen. This interaction shows the stereotype the gun store owner portrayed against Farhad. The gun store owner attributes Farhad’s ethnicity to the prior acts of 9/11 and believes he is buying a gun to use in a violent manner towards Americans even though he is buying the gun to use for protecting the store that he owns.
The second theory that I observed during the movie was prejudice. The definition of prejudice is the preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. According to Neuliep (2006), prejudice is a controlled process which is an intentional process that requires the conscious attention of the processor (p.193). An example that I noticed during Crash was when off duty Officer Tom Hansen (played by Ryan Phillip) picks up Peter (played by Larenz Tate) who was hitchhiking. While they were chatting during the car ride, Peter mentions that he was ice skating in reply to Hansen’s question of “What was going on in the Valley tonight?” Peter also mentions that he wanted to be a hockey goalie when he was younger.
Due to Hansen’s prejudice that African-Americans don’t like hockey or can’t ice skate he is suspicious. Eventually, Hansen’s prejudices and nervousness get the best of him when he shoots Peter who was attempting to show him his statue of St. Christoper “the patron saint of travelers” which is the same statue Hansen had on his dashboard. Another prejudice in a more extreme form occurred when Farhad’s store was broken into and vandalized. Inside of the store, the contents are strewn about everywhere and “Rag Head” (a derogatory term used towards Arabs/Muslims) was spray painted on the wall. When prejudice escalates to such a violent act it turns into bigotry which is intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself. Obviously, in this extreme case the bigots were the people who broke into, ransacked and vandalized Farhad’s store due to his ethnicity.
The third theory that I observed during the movie was collectivistic culture displayed by Daniel Ruiz, the locksmith. According to Neuliep (2006), collectivistic cultures stress values that serve the ingroup by subordinating personal goals for the sake of preserving the ingroup and group goals have precedence over individual goals (p. 46). Collectivistic cultures typically have extended primary groups in the movie’s case it is Daniel, his daughter and wife. Daniel puts his personal goals to the side for the sake of his family. For example, he works for the 24/7 Locksmith company to provide for his family. Ideally, one would not want to work through all hours of the day/night; however, Daniel does it to provide for his family. Additionally, Daniel and his family moved from his old residence where violence and gun shots were the norm to their current location in a much safer, improved location.
Daniel, the collectivist, is emotionally connected to his ingroup in this case his family. An example, is Daniel’s daughter heard a truck backfire which caused her to recall the sound of gun shots of her old neighborhood and to rehash her experience when a bullet came through her bedroom window of her old house. However, Daniel tries to assuage these fears by putting on an “invisible, impenetrable” cloak that will protect her at all times. Daniel is emotionally connected to his daughter and wants to provide for her to keep her safe and provide her with a better life. Another example of collectivism yet on a different scale than Daniel and his family is towards the beginning of the movie when Peter and Anthony (played by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) are discussing stealing cars. Anthony states that he would never steal a car from another African-American due to the fear they share of white people.
The fourth and final theory I recognized during the movie was the individualistic cultures. According to Neulip (2006), “in individualistic cultures, emphasis is placed on individuals’ goals over group goals and social behavior is guided by personal goals, perhaps at the expense of other types of goals” (pg. 45). In other words, “individualistic cultures stress values that benefit the individual” (Neulip, 2006, pg. 45). An example of an individualistic culture comes at the expense of Richard Cabot (played by Brendan Fraser), the district attorney for Los Angeles. After his carjacking, Richard does not worry about the safety of himself nor his wife but worries about how this carjacking would give him negative publicity. Additionally, he is worried that dependent on his subsequent actions he would lose the African-American vote or he would lose the law and order vote. Richard shows the true definition of being in an individualistic culture as he is only worrying about himself and his political aspirations at the expense of his wife’s feelings and his assistant Karen’s feelings as well.
Later on in the movie, Richard uses Detective Waters’ (played by Don Cheadle) brother’s past convictions against him. Specifically, a member of Cabot’s staff, Mr. Flanagan (played by William Fichtner) uses Waters’ brother’s past incarcerations against him and blackmails Waters into telling Cabot the white undercover cop shooting the black cop was racially motivated. Cabot then uses this information to hold a press conference which will help him with the African-American community. In conclusion, I had watched the movie, Crash, in the past and was excited to see this as an option for this assignment. Along with my chapter readings, being able to re-watch the movie opened my eyes to things that I did not see in my initial viewing.
Crash shows the characters and their respective displaced worries and uncertainties are internalized based upon the concept that all minorities are inferior to Caucasians and as a result are to blame for the problems. During the film, I was able to determine how racial stereotypes and prejudices are formed; the destruction that these stereotypes and prejudices can cause and the pressing need to find a resolution In the end, each of us can make a difference in our own culture by promoting fairness, social justice and equity for all people with different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.
Cheadle, D., Haggis, P, and Haggis, M (Producers) & Haggis, P (Director). 2004. Crash (Motion Picture). United States: Studio Neuliep, J. (2006). Intercultural Communication : A Contextual Approach. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.