Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006, 03:54 pm
recumbentgoat: Crash and Burn
So Crash won the Best Picture last night, in what is the biggest upset of the evening. We thought it was going to be Brokeback Mountain. We all kind of wanted it to be Brokeback Mountain. But Hollywood proves that it really can't handle being as maverick as they claimed to be all night (I'm still wiping the masturbatory, self-congratulatory spunk off my TV screen). Hollywood proves that it's really too afraid of the red-states to give the night's biggest accolade to a movie protested by half the country.
And besides, to Hollywood, Crash was kosher. It was "indie" (in budget only -- it ended up having a wider distribution than Brokeback) and it dealt with what Hollywood felt was a safer issue: race, instead of homosexuality.
Crash was a group piece about racism in America set in busy, urban L.A. in which a light is shed on a bunch of people of colour and their racism and "humanity". It's a fairly simplistic piece, delving no deeper than a "*gasp* *shock* racism still exists" look at race and race oppression issues. It was racism written by a White guy, and chock full of mere stereotypes and standard superficiality when it comes to portraying the "coloured" experience on-screen. Here they are in no particular order:
* Racist White Guy
* Racist White Woman
* Bleeding Heart White Liberal - lower class
* Bleeding Heart White Liberal - upper class
* Black Woman with Attitude
* Angry Black Man
* Dumb Black Man
* Sellout Black Man
* White Flight Black Man
* Confused Biracial
* Put-upon non-Arab Brown Person
* Pulling Himself Up By the Bootstraps Latino (Who Looks Like a Gangsta)
* Latina housemaid
* A Whole Lot of Funny, Foreigner Capitalist Asians
* A Whole Lot of Mute Asian Coolies
And then you make these characters do something out of their stereotype to "turn the stereotype on its ear" or some other nonsense. Except for the Asians, who remain marginalized in the entire movie; we get about ten minutes of screen-time, total, and in that time manage to get ourselves hit by a car, hit another car with our oh-so-hilarious bad driving, Korean accents mocked, appear money-grubbing and greedy, locked in a van, and forced to wander around aimlessly and stupidly looking at all the pretty lights). Did anyone really mistake these caricatures for deep commentary on social oppression?
Oh yes, and we must remember that White Hollywood benefits more by applauding Crash over Brokeback. Crash is a feel-good movie for Whites. This film was made for White people -- for a person of colour, it was like watching yourself get ready in the morning; for us, these pedestrian thoughts on racism and oppression is nothing new. But, whereas Brokeback ends off reminding us how painful love between two gay men is made by homophobic, straight-laced White America, Crash does nothing but assuage White guilt by arguing that racism is alright, it's universal. It tells us not to worry about fostering a little bit of prejudice -- everyone does it and that's what makes the world go round. It offers no insight, no analysis, no suggestions, no accusations -- it was a mere two hours of glorifying racial misunderstanding in a desperate quest for pure truth.
And the predominantly White audience (except for the couple of misguided minorities, myself included, who were taken in by the previews) can leave the theatre feeling good that they fulfilled their Racism 101 quotient for the evening, get into their 4x4's and drive to their White Flight suburbia only to imagine they now have a better understanding for, Kenesha, their underling secretary of biracial origin when they go to work the next morning and Juanita, the maid they hired to clean their laundry. Maybe they'll get Kenesha an extra bagel for a couple of days and tip Juanita an extra dollar at the end of the week. Maybe.
So Crash won the Oscar for Best Picture. The same night that Hollywood gave one of the only Oscars to go to a Black man to a group of rappers rapping about pimps and Memoirs of a Geisha, like Zhang Ziyi herself, were celebrated as aesthetically pleasing but containing no substance.
Sure, Hollywood is maverick. They're actually open about how much they hate us.
For another commentary on Asians at the Academy Awards, check out Twice is Right.From Reappropriate.com
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 09:27 pm (UTC)
wafflelips: There are spoilers in my comment
A number of people of color and some white people (all of whom are really up on issues of oppression) I know really liked Crash. I don't get why. I thought it was crappy and contrived. The racist white guy sexually violates that woman and then saves her from a burning car wreck? Puh-leeze! And then the whole scene where he holds her after pulling her out of the wreckage? Every scene was an important scene for a *Man to Learn/Display an Important Point about Racism and our Society*. Blech. I can't believe it won.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)
it's ridiculous. it was difficult to tell if the racism was portrayed as satirical or serious expositions of racism. it also implies that "everyone is racist" and to overcome it everyone needs to "just get along" by realizing "we're all the same".
the fact that crash won over brokeback shows how illegitimate the committee is. films win because of box office numbers and who wins isn't even discussed as much as who wore what.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen Crash...mostly because I heard reviews similar to this one (A e-friend of mine said "if you always felt that After School Specials were too subtle, "Crash" is the movie for you) ...But I did immediately think of this community when I noticed all the film's writers, producers, and the director were white. I think it's a little ridiculous to assume that anyone can make a really deep movie about racism that's pretty much put together by only one race. You might be able to get a decent movie out of that, but you probably won't get any earth-shattering conclusions about the American psyche.
I definitely got a bit of a vibe that a bunch of white liberals were trying to avoid alienting their fan base/themselves but didn't want to look like that's what they were doing. I could just see someone sitting there thinking, "If I vote for the movie about race, nobody can accuse me of chickening out."
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 09:50 pm (UTC)
all the film's writers, producers, and the director were white.
what about Don Cheadle?
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
"if you always felt that After School Specials were too subtle, "Crash" is the movie for you)
Exactly why I think I hated it. I resent movies that feel the need to drop an anvil every 10 minutes.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 09:46 pm (UTC)
A) Brokeback Mountain: those who do queer film studies/media studies would (mostly) argue that Brokeback Mountain is little more than a modern gay-male version of The Children's Hour
, doing nothing more than petting heterosexuality on the back. Brokeback
reifies the butch/femme top/bottom couple, customary in hetero-assumption style, and employs the sissy to die in the end, nothing new or different from other queer films - Cruising
, That Certain Summer
, The Killing of Sister George
, etc. Both men are married and pass as heterosexual and live primarily (passing) heterosexual lives amidst a clandestine homo-erotic affair. One man is tortured by his homo-lust and lives a miserable, lonely life. We can assume this as what we, the audience, hope is penance for his homo-ways. The sissy-fag lives dangerously and homo-like, full of sexual perversians and prostitutes. He of course dies by "accident" - although many are left to assume he was murdered much the way Anis' childhood memory is told to us earlier in the film.
Both men lead astray nice straight women. Both men are white. Both men are of some sort of means, one being much wealthier than the other. Both live lives of secrecy.
Granted the film is a timepiece. It still does little to stray from already normalized depictions of gay men and women already on the market. It's acceptable in mainstream culture because it does nothing to challenge the heteronormativity of mainstream culture.
Gays are still poor creatures to be pittied. Hyper-masculinity still makes the man. "Sissy" gay men are still considered bad. Lesbians are still invisible. Queer/Homosexuality is still white.
In my mind, those truly desirous of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people would see the ridiculous hetero-wash of this film and toss it in the trash. It's a crumb to keep the queers quiet, and it's attempt at depicting gay men is certainly not meant to make gay men equal, break ground, or challenge stereotypes.
It just feeds white, heterosexual, able-bodied patriarchy.
B) Crash: I actually enjoyed the film for what it is. Showing it to classes of white, mid-west college kids helped break the racism 101 ice. However, it's problems do outweight a lot of its benefits and the points this post raise are all really valid. Some I hadn't considered before.
Hollywood, for all it's glitz and glamor, failed two very large and diverse communities, with all the big names to boot.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 10:14 pm (UTC)
heyiya: Off-topically, speaking as "a person who does queer studies"...
(I haven't seen Crash so can't comment on that)
I loved Brokeback Mountain, though I think you're right about its being acceptable in mainstream culture because it doesn't challenge that culture's heteronormativity. I do think that the audience's primary point of identification being figures who get fairly screwed over by the heteronormative order goes a little way towards challenging that, but that's not relevant to what I wanted to say.
Which was, that my little queer-studies brain gets all riled up every time I see Jack and Ennis described as 'gay men'. They're not. Well, it could be argued that Jack is by the end, but Ennis at least emphatically does not subscribe to the identity category/discourse/whatever of gay identity. People like him are generally described as MSMs, men who have sex with men without it reflecting on their self-perception as heterosexual. If you have to stick an identity category on Jack and Ennis, given that they are both portrayed as enjoying sex with both men and women, 'bisexual' might be more appropriate than gay. Call their behaviour gay and I won't argue with you, though I dare say there are plenty who might; I've had lots of fun discussing Brokeback as a 'gay cowboy movie'. But Jack and Ennis are not gay men.
/rant. Sorry, I couldn't help myself.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 05:25 am (UTC)
Thanks for spoiling part of Brokeback Mountain for me. Next time, please put *spoilers ahead* or something before you tell the ending of a movie.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 02:43 pm (UTC)
It's acceptable in mainstream culture because it does nothing to challenge the heteronormativity of mainstream culture.
Your B.Mountain comments are interesting. Totally OT, but several people I have been conversing with online were perplexed and saddened by the fact that B.Mountain got so much praise while a movie like Breakfast on Pluto was basically completely ignored (except for Cillian Murphy's Golden Globe nomination). When you read the horrifically ignorant and homophobic reviews it has received, it is even more distressing.
Anyway, thanks for your insightful comments here.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC)
The only way Jack is in any way effeminate is in comparison with Ennis which, in my mind, is far too qualified to cram him into the category. It's his risk-taking and wanting to transcend the limitations of his society that dooms him, not his engenderment. Too much gay male media studies elides gender presentation and sexuality and it pisses me off.
Also, I don't think it could have been more obviously suggested that he dies from being bashed.
Also, timepiece = clock or watch, you mean period piece. I don't think the film is radical, except in that it is a group of straight people (Lee, Annie Proulx, the producers, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) interrogating these issues on their own, more or less in response to Matthew Shepard (not so much a period piece then).
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 09:55 pm (UTC)
captain_brad: my 2 and only cents
Between Crash and Brokeback, I do think it was kind of a "damned if ya do..." situation. Pick Brokeback, and you're ignoring the movie about racism. Pick Crash, and you're choosing the "safer" option.
Though, of the movies nominated, I've only seen Crash (which I mostly like, though I found it lacking in some areas), so I can't speak personally on which was the best.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
kyooverse: Re: my 2 and only cents
I don't know when racism became "safe" but it is starting to really piss me off.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 11:16 pm (UTC)
actually, Brokeback Mountain is great. I mean, it's no politically-radical revolutionary tract with exclamation points and underlines, but it's a great story.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 11:53 pm (UTC)
BBM was easily as technically as good as Boys Don't Cry, and I enjoyed it as much. Of course, saying that puts me in the position somehow of coming down "against" BDC and "for" BBM, and that's not even close to how I'd describe my position on either movie, but it strikes me as incredibly shortsighted and immature to say "I haven't seen this movie but I know it sucks!" Especially when your focus seems to be entirely on how "Hollywood" they are, in spite of both being independent features. It all just seems a bit too movie-rebel-without-a-cause to me... or perhaps a little to Focus on the Family in reverse... to rail against a film you haven't even seen.
as a question, do movies need to be politically worthwhile in order to not suck? Can a movie deal with characters who lead politically charged lifestyles without having to come down on a side? It really seems to me that no matter how interesting or beautiful from a purely textual standpoint BBM was, it was doomed to be lost in hype from all angles.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
I think your read is off.
White people win no matter which one was selected.
Also, those men weren't gay -- calling them gay is offensive to gay people.
However, you are in luck. Your read is the popular one and I don't feel like defending or expounding on my unpopular read which complicates it.
You are right, Crash
isn't complicated for people like us on the issue of race, however, Crash isn't just about race, but class and gender, too. Just because we are all steeped in anti-racist thinking and reading and discussing doesn't mean it doesn't do other people some real good. A lot of white people don't know that racism exists, don't understand what it is, think that if they never voice "it" then they are being egalitarian enlightened people.
While Peggy Macintosh's essay makes me cringe these days, I cannot deny that it is useful.
The only usefulness of BBM is to call folks gay, to ignore the reality of their lives even, to not complicate it, but make it easy -- a "gay love story" indeed.
Which is really sad, tired and really REALLY boring.
Mon, Mar. 6th, 2006 11:58 pm (UTC)
I am by no means disagreeing with you, in fact for the most part I think you're dead on, but do you think its fair to hold the movie (BBM) to the hype projected onto it? The whole "gay love story" thing seemed to me to be an outside factor projecting in, not neccesarily something inherent in the film. Maybe I just gave them the benefit of the doubt to a fault, but I really enjoyed the film without finding it to be particularly progressive, risky or enlightening. I think its difficult to seperate BBM from its press, both positive and negative, and I think that that is the reason it lost and the reason that so many people don't even want to see it, no matter their views on "gay issues."
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 01:25 am (UTC)
recumbentgoat: Too many magical poc for me
It's not my read, it's from reappropriate.com.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 03:58 am (UTC)
ex_betterday861: Thank You!
This is why I am so boggled that gays are so anxious to hail this movie as the vanguard to gay acceptance (it is disheartening to read the lavish praise that the people in this community is heaping on Brokeback). There is no happy ending and one of the main characters is killed violently. After suffering through movies like "Cruising" , "Sunday, Bloody Sunday", and "The Children's Hour", I would think the white gay community would be tired of the tragic gay stereotype. If anything, it furthers the stereotype that homosexuality will lead to a life of hopelessness and despair.
The plot is tired, outdated, and detrimental.
Is this movie supposed to inspire gay youth in Red State Hell and make them feel good about themselves?
Romantic? What romance? They fucked like animals and treated each other brutally. Where did they hold each other tenderly? where was the love? The moven did not show an ounce of sentimentality until one of the main characters died.
I mean, did "Imitation of Life" and "Pinky" advance the cause of the Civil Rights Movement? People, Black and white, hated Peola for rejecting her Black mother; white folks did not look at the reasons WHY Peola did what she did.
Also, it is telling to see how quickly some of these open-minded GLBTQ denounce Crash because their chosen movie did not win Best Picture. I have heard some nasty, ugly, borderline racist comments from my gay coworkers because Brokeback lost. They fail to realize that both movies were political and both had an agenda. Worst of all, both were lighthearted pap.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen Crash, but I'm more than a bit disturbed by the fact that Paul Haggis is a Scientologist. That is actually more upsetting to me than the stereotyping and heavy-handed treatment I've heard so much about.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 07:57 pm (UTC)
Crash is awesome. I can't believe that y'all are responding to the most in-depth analysis of the ways that race is intertwined in our society to EVER be distributed on anywhere NEAR this kind of scope, by dissing it and telling people not to get anything out of it. Sure, it leaves a lot of room for discussion, but if there's one thing that white folks in this country ought to be doing, it's discussing race. This movie does NOT revolve around white people, nor typical white constructions of people of color; it does NOT oversimplify people based on race -- how many different individual characters for each race with different, non-racially-constructed circumstances and traits have to be involved before you stop enumerating them as if all of their character can be boiled down to some bullet points?
Seriously. White folks complaining about stereotypes in this movie just sound like they are treating each PoC character's every deviation from their OWN racial assumptions like a special exception / NEW stereotype being written into the movie. It's not. These are reasonable roles for these people to be playing. They are humanized at every turn, and NOT in a "white = human" sort of way.
The part with the cop rescuing the black woman from the car is fucking crucial. Yes, it does verge upon making it seem like the white guy is completely "redeemed" for his earlier act of brutal and racist sexual assault. BUT, what is the PIVOTAL moment in that scene? The cop. Asks. For. Consent. To rescue her. The cop, a white male, places his own safety BELOW the right of the trapped black woman to refuse consent to allow him to move his hand over her person to reach the seatbelt that is trapping her in the car. Without that moment of accountability, of basic human respect, they both would have died in the explosion of that car. It's CRUCIAL to me that white folks be made to understand that past failures and acts of racial injustice can be REDEEMED by future accountability.
To me, that is one of the most important statements in the film. And it's one of the fundamental principles under which I do the work I do, as a white male, trying to deconstruct whiteness. If I believed that I was doomed to act unaccountably and forever to wear the shame and guilt of my past behavior -- both outwardly fucked-up and unconsciously BENEFITTING from racism -- then trying to change my patterns and internalized superiority would be an act of self-hating futility, not one of revolutionary justice-seeking.
As far as I'm concerned, REDEMPTION should be one of the main things we are seeking, not out of guilt or shame, but because an accountable sense of redemption is the ONLY reasonable benchmark we have to measure how the changes we are making in ourselves and in our communities are affecting people. Crash shows both that accountable behavior can be a source of redemption AND that a "racism is bad" mindset doesn't preclude engaging in future racist acts (i.e., the "good" cop killing his black passenger in a moment of racist assumption near the end of the film.)
What the heck else do you folks want? No, it's not "The Color of Fear," but this is Hollywood. This movie was shown in places from Boston to Orange County to Waco to Dallas to South Dakota. White people with NO racial analysis saw this movie and are going to be looking for NEW (to them) ideas about race to help settle the questions this movie is raising. If the only thing they are hearing from white radical anti-racists is that this movie is itself RACIST, they are going to turn back to their old assumptions and NOTHING good will come of it. We are not above this film. We need to check our elitism and allow ourselves to see just how useful this film can be in helping white people to build an analysis of the engrained, relationship-oriented nature of racial oppression.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 08:19 pm (UTC)
god, I'm such a jerk. Sorry this was so heated. I've been reading a lot of white folks saying some ignorant shit about this movie, and I totally inappropriately took it out on y'all even though some of you had much more valid things to contribute. Sorry I didn't hear that validity til after I had responded.
It does seem like folks who commented despite not having seen the film ought to do so.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC)
Reading more deeply into some of the comments, there is some good food for thought and important caveats that I guess I didn't take into account previously. Asians are definitely a footnote. I wonder if there were deleted scenes that better fleshed out some of the Asian characters.
And knowing that the movie was made entirely by white folks... fuck, that pisses me off. how much better a movie could this have been if it was produced in a more accountable way?
Still, I think it's unreasonable to act as if this movie isn't going to be a source of increased racial consciousness in terms of how White Americans percieve their relationships to other people. We can direct people's analyses to a deeper level, or we can tell people not to bark up this tree at all.
The Oscar is another issue, too. It's fucked up that this movie won Best Picture considering its flaws, and how fundamental some of them are. but the side effect is that white folks are going to have some of their basic assumptions about race shattered (although, as you all are correct to point out, others may be further hardened). The question, I guess, is whether this movie addresses the fundamental fallacy of racial constructions, and even if it is victim to some of them itself, it may still accomplish that goal.
Or maybe I'm just a white dude with a nominally anti-racist mindset and this movie was unique simply in its affirmation of the most surface-level aspects of my oversimplified analysis and that's why I found it to be so noteworthy. But I guess I'm just really thirsty for mainstream dialogue on race. And it seems like there could be a much worse starting place for that dialogue than Crash.
Tue, Mar. 7th, 2006 08:33 pm (UTC)
I know what you're saying---it says a lot that this movie is still a huge step for some people.....and yet not enough for others.