Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bell Hooks on 'Crash'

When I first saw the film Crash. I thought it was really nicely done and had a positive impression of it. I mentioned it to my African American literature professor and he didn't think it was worth it. I didnt understand intially until I thought about it more. I recently read this piece by Bell Hooks and I think I got a feeling for what was going through my professor's mind when he probably saw it as well. I've read Bell Hooks previous works and I must say that she is one of the most compelling critics of culture I've ever come across.

Well I could paraphrase what she said but nobody can express it better than herself:

James Baldwin was fond of saying that "sentimentality is the
ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion. It is the
mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel."

Many people see Crash as a film which invokes deep pathos
and feelings. Actually, it is a sentimental and melodramatic film in
the classic mode of Hollywood.

In Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell shows how western
culture really thrives on the classical myth of hero. The classical
hero triumphs over his fellow man. He has strength. His heroism must
be recognized. He takes what he wants by force and dominates others.
In Crash, Matt Dillon's character Ryan is cast as the hero. He is the
only character who rises above personal limitations, personal
prejudices. His willingness to risk his life to save the life of a
black woman he has violated and humiliated springs not from a concern
for her humanity but rather from his desperate need to prove he is
worthy of the status of hero. It is his moment of glory. And like all
Hollywood heroes he steals the limelight. His sins are forgiven and he
is allowed to continue his domination over others.

Viewers may not consciously experience the film as yet
another film in a long line of racialized Hollywood narratives from
Birth of a Nation to the present day, where the theme and plot is
centered on white male triumph over bestial emotions. We may not be
conscious of that narrative, but it is playing itself out in the
unconscious. It is the film narrative they have come to expect.

The film is seductive to audiences at this historical moment, because
many black people feel that our voices and images, our pain, our
suffering caused by white supremacist exploitation and oppression is
being ignored. Black viewers were moved by the fact that someone would
take the time to portray the sense of violation we so often feel when
confronting everyday racism. When the white cop stops the black couple
a symbolic lynching occurs. There is castration. There is public
shaming and emasculation of the black man, not only by the white cop
but also by the black woman. These are the same old stereotypical
images. And ultimately, black women are blamed for black degradation,
for putting the black male down. The one black female who is
"together" is totally allied with whiteness and white male power. In
the late 60's and early 70's, the question was who will be raised to
revere the black woman? Crash tells us no one will ever revere the
black woman because the black woman is not worthy to be revered.
Thandie Newton's character as the biracial beauty epitomizes the
female body that is the meeting place for black and white male desire,
bringing another motif from slavery to the present day. She is the
elegant leading lady, the lady of mutual desire, but she too is

Like the stereotypical mulatto character Sarah Jane in the
film Imitation of Life, her heroic moment comes when she is facing
death. The Thandie Newton character becomes the total tragic mulatto
when she is able to "forgive" her sexual violator and surrenders to
his salvific touch. She begs the white male to save her and clings to

Contrasting Crash as a public narrative about race with
the film The Bodyguard, audiences would be able to see the difference
between public open affirmation of white male regard for black woman
and the dehumanizing rituals that take place in Crash. In The
Bodyguard, there is a scene with a white woman who comes between the
Kevin Costner character and the black woman he desires. He lets this
white woman know: I am not choosing you. He does not degrade the black
female he cares about. Interestingly, in Crash, the Thandie Newton
character must be reduced to this demeaning dehumanized mess, pleading
with the white man to save her. He then becomes the Christ-like
figure. The image of her crying, clinging to the white male, appears
on many posters and advertisements for the film.

Rather than depicting her as an equal as in The Bodyguard,
we get the erasure of that liberating interracial narrative and the
substitution of an interracial narrative where the black woman is
always subordinated, dependent on the white male for her survival. No
matter how beautiful Newton 's character looks at the beginning of the
film, that moment when she is clinging to the white man in her baptism
by fire she looks monstrous. Her features are distorted. Ironically,
it is only this time we wee her being emotionally caring in
relationship to her black husband. Soon after this scene she calls and
says "I love you." We wonder what such love means in the context of
all the betrayals we see in this film. In real life, the bodies of
black females are not saved by heroic white male fascists.

In contemporary culture, the bodies of all those black
women abandoned and lost, disappeared and dead in the wake of
Hurricane Katrina let the world know that the black female body is not
worthy of salvation. It is an image of genocide. A disturbing aspect
of Crash is the fake narrative of white male redemption of black
womanness. In fact, the film overall is about how black womanness is
destroyed and degraded. We see how black men and women are set up to
be the agents of their own and other's destruction while the white
family is completely idealized. Even the Hispanic man is shown as
having tension with his wife. The message conveyed is that she is not
his equal. He is the parenting person, the authority – patriarchy is
intact. Crash offers the image of white men as tolerant and
compassionate and white women as weepy, unhappy, blundering idiots.
She is, in a sense, the continuation of the Victorian idea of the mad
woman in the attic. Yet, she is still worthy of respect, whereas black
people in this film get no respect. I am startled when black people
tell me that Crash talks about race in a new and different way. It
simply does not. One of the greatest films of our time to lead into a
profound discussion about race is Spike Lee's Four Little Girls. This
film has no raw sexuality, no raw contempt,no construction of nigger
as beast. In Crash, the images of black people are poorly executed
clones of the images of blackness depicted in Quentin Tarantino's film
Pulp Fiction and in black exploitation films.

Crash begins with sexuality, and sexuality is always racialized in
America . The white male is portrayed as a voyeur looking into the
bedroom of black man and woman (in this case, the car is the symbolic

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At 11:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very brilliant stuff, i understand the film in a totally different way know. if u have any more articles send to me please its


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