Disregarding the proclaimed principles of constitutional multiculturalism, racial discrimination still exists on various levels in modern American society. Winning Oscars, the 2004 film Crash directed by Paul Haggis sheds light upon the problems of racial profiling in media and society of present day Los Angeles, pursuing the goal of showing the inappropriateness of racial prejudices.
Nature of multicultural societies
The strains of multiculturalism presuppose certain challenges to legal and social dimensions of life in any community. The instances of racial discrimination in multicultural Los Angeles are revealed in the movie Crash which demonstrates the controversy between the legislative proclamations of democratic societies and their practical implications in everyday situations. Regardless of the constitutional multiculturalism of modern democratic societies proclaiming equal rights for all citizens, the discriminating of the minorities still occurs at various levels.
In fact, discrimination is built so deep into the institutional system, that the discriminating not always are aware of the wrongness of their actions (Henslin 2010). The differences in racial origin and religious beliefs frequently predetermine the superior attitude towards the representatives of the minor ethnic groups. The belief in biological inferiority of certain racial groups is frequently used for justifying their exploitation and discrimination which can have various forms. For example, there are a wide range of racism forms in present day societies, including institutional, systemic, societal, interpersonal and everyday forms of racism.
The first three forms are rooted deep into the community paradigm and predetermine the accustomed patterns of the racialized order established on a state level, while the last two forms, namely the interpersonal and everyday forms reflect the human factor as the underlying cause and the consequence of institutionalized racism in modern multicultural societies. The plot of the movie Crash is based upon explicit examples of everyday and interpersonal racism.
The application of sociological concepts to the movie Crash
Narrating the interconnected lives of 15 American within the frames of 36 hours, the film sheds light upon the politics and dominating mood of racial representations in present day America. The title of the movie cannot be perceived literally, and implies not only the car accident in one of the opening episodes of the film, but also the confrontation of interests and life views among the representatives of various racial groups. Thus, at the very beginning of the movie, the Los Angeles detectives Graham Waters and Ria discuss the philosophical issues of the decay of community feeling in the urbanized society but this lyrical mood disappears after they arrive at the site of the car accident and hear two women screaming racial offenses to each other. The ethnocentric views of the participants of the accident broaden the context of the situation, shifting the emphasis towards their racial stereotypes, while the situation itself reveals the racial inequality in the community.
The racial profiling, the corresponding racial stereotypes in the representatives of both majority and minority ethnic groups had a significant impact upon the formation of life views and social perspectives of the characters of the movie. The situations depicted in the movie demonstrate the inappropriateness of the widely spread racial prejudices based on beliefs in inferiority of biological race. It is significant that for the purpose of unveiling the existing stereotypes, Haggis as the director of the movie decides not to depict all blacks as positive characters but proves that they as well as whites can have various personal qualities as opposed to generally accepted racial profiling. Depicting the events in a realistic key, the author does not deprive them of certain human weaknesses. Thus, in one situation a Los Angeles detective Tom Hansen acts as a racist, sexually molests Christine who is a woman of color.
However, at the end of the film, he saves life of this woman. Showing Cameron who is unjustly suspected of carjacking and then a black guy who is really trying to hijack Thayer’s car, the author tries to communicate his main moral message to the audience which implies that disregarding all the racial profiling used as justification for discrimination, there is no link between the biological race and the characters’ behavior. Taking into account the fact that the film Crash was awarded an Oscar in the age of visible racism, it can be stated that the examples from it are valuable for discussing the issues of racial clashes in modern America. Sutherland and Feltey (2010) noted that “Crash misrecognizes the politics of racism and refashions it as a new age bromide, a matter of inner angst and prejudices that simply need to be recognized and transcended” (p. 97).
The representation of multicultural issues in media and society
The issue of representing racial profiling and stereotypes in media as an instrument of affecting the public consciousness and deepening the racial gap in a multicultural society is one of the plot lines of the movie Crash. Cameron as a black producer is induced to represent black characters according to existing racial profiling. On the other hand, the main idea of the film itself and its central message is overcoming racial prejudices in media.
Littleton (1996) noted that “There remains a gap between the way our laws treat minorities – as full-fledged, equal citizens – and how our media treat them” (p. 118). Raising the problem of racial stereotyping in the movie Crash and selecting a realistic key for showing the impact of racial profiling upon the lives and views of the main characters, Haggis contributed to establishing the multicultural values and serving democracy in modern America.
The recognition and popularity of the film Crash which is focused on the problems of racial stereotyping proves that the actuality of this problem and the relative readiness of the community to reconsider their values.
Cheadle, D., Yari, D., and Schulman, C. (Producers) & Haggis, P. (Director).
(2004). Crash [Motion picture]. United States: Lions Gate Films Henslin, J. (2010). Social problems: A down-to-earth approach. Pearson Education Canada. Littleton, J. (1996).
Clash of identities: Media, manipulation, and politics of the self. Prentice-Hall Canada. Sutherland, J. and Feltey, K.
(2010). Cinematic sociology: Social life in film. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.