Mar 6, 2006

And the Winner Is... not ignorance, at least.

Watched the Academy awards tonight, like the millions of others with nothing to do on a Sunday night (though there was much to do and I just wasn't doing it).

I was getting set to writing a scalding re-review of Crash after it won Best Picture, focusing on the negative (and non-existent) portrayal of Asian Americans in Los Angeles, of all places; about the sad script that shone in the opening lines by Don Cheadle about how humanity in L.A. reaches out to touch someone, sometimes by crashing into one another; about the way that Matt Dillon's character finding redemption after being the absolute anti-hero killed me; about how there's no resolution when the young cop played by Ryan Phillippe kills Cheadle's brother because the good Samaritan is a racist in the end; about how I'd seen the seamless weaving of stories before in a more convincing way in Magnolia; or about how I, with my limited exposure to L.A., though that Collateral was a better portrayal of a city that bewilders and escapes me...

...but then I read these words on Sepia Mutiny:

"The carjackers were like scholars. The Latino dude who lived in a ghetto barely had any accent. If youÂ?re going to deal with race, be accurate."
...and I just had to drop my commentary on the film for a moment to say: WHAT THE FUCK? I wonder if the author is saying that it's impossible for someone to be intelligent and steal cars? Or is he saying that it's improbable that two young black men could understand and discourse about racial inequity, just because mainstream culture doesn't promote that dialogue in any way greater than suggesting it by showing chocolate and peanut butter coming together peacefully in the old school Reese's (not that Reese) Peanut Butter cups commercials.

Is it really that hard to believe that someone who doesn't have an accent doesn't live in the suburbs with 2.5 cars and a job as a lawyer? I find that analysis to be even more problematic than the one found in Crash, because I know that what I saw in Crash is possible, though I didn't like everything being tied up neatly in the end.

It is a simplistic, and dangerous, assumption to think that class, language isolation/English proficiency, and race intersect in the neat and convenient boxes that we want them to. I find it wholly acceptable and plausible that the Latino man in the film isn't a gangbanger, and that he doesn't have an accent, but that he's just trying to make things work for his family, and that he's got a homebase in a place where he feels comfortable - maybe where he himself grew up. I find it particularly offensive that someone would find that to be inaccurate - as if it would be impossible to have a similar story of second generation desis growing up in Jackson Heights, Jersey City, Richmond Hill or any other central community location who stay there when they have their first home, and fill it with unaccented words in two languages.

Look - Crash wasn't perfect, but let's not fault the writer/director for giving a little space to the characters; for recognizing a difference between Persians and Iraqis; for giving us a small slice of the complexity of stories and the interwoven nature of our lives - and the fact that there's more to the surface and far more to what lies beneath. Let's at least give him that due, even if we thought that another film should have won. And let's not fall prey to the same faults of the people who we tend to criticize. Let's not generalize to the point of ignoring the nuance of our experiences, even if the greater point is actually that another film deserved the nod.

Of course, I haven't seen many of the other films, so I don't have much to say in that regard, except that I liked Capote and really couldn't expect it to win because it was dark. I didn't think that it was slow - I thought that the subject matter led to a brooding film, and that the pace kept us in sync with Capote as he tried to find an ending to his book, and the line between what was moral and what was unethical became ever frayed and twisted upon itself. I'm not a huge fan of mimicry as a heralded form of art, but it was perhaps harder to see in Capote than it would be of Johnny Cash or Ray Charles (though I have to say that Joaquin Phoenix was on fire and inspired in that role and I was rooting for him, and Jamie Foxx owned Ray).

Anyway, it is what it is. There wasn't enough oomph about the war or about this sham of an administration, there was no statement about the war on immigrants (of course) and even the Academy co-opted the theme of cinema leading the way of social change within one of too many montages.

Regardless, it's time to rent some of the movies I missed, like Tsotsi, whose director was more real and seemed prouder to represent his country than anyone else I saw on that stage, and Paradise Now, which I've heard is very challenging as well.

4 comments:

Chai said...

dude, you MUST watch the Norman Corwin documentary.

also, if you find a place playing Tsotsi in the DC area, holler. i would love to watch it too.

and i can't believe you didn't hit up 3-6 Mafia! that was the best part of the oscars!
--
even with all that, your analysis of crash and other commentary is right now. im with you.

Rage said...

Thanks Chai. I'll definitely check out the doc, and will let you know when I find more info on screenings in DC, NYC, etc...

Don't know - I was disappointed that Terrence Howard didn't go up and sing the song like he did online.

Manish said...

I wonder if the author is saying that it's impossible for someone to be intelligent and steal cars?

Highly unlikely. It's hard to believe that someone with the historical knowledge and verbal acuity to debate African-American history and race consciousness has to steal cars for a living. It's a Hollywood fantasy.

let's not fault the writer/director for giving a little space to the characters

I fault them for giving too little. They use stereotypes, just inverted. This film lacked any subtlety whatsoever.

Is it really that hard to believe that someone who doesn't have an accent doesn't live in the suburbs with 2.5 cars and a job as a lawyer?

In the context of this sledgehammer of a film, the role is merely the inversion of a stereotype rather than a real person with character shadings.

Rage said...

Highly unlikely. It's hard to believe that someone with the historical knowledge and verbal acuity to debate African-American history and race consciousness has to steal cars for a living. It's a Hollywood fantasy.

Don't remember the precise script, but I think that's a pretty simplistic way to view things, including criminality. Some people don't steal because they have to.

I fault them for giving too little. They use stereotypes, just inverted. This film lacked any subtlety whatsoever.

Agreed.

In the context of this sledgehammer of a film, the role is merely the inversion of a stereotype rather than a real person with character shadings.

Eh - I don't agree with you on this one either. To think that someone second generation wouldn't live in a ghetto/barrio is again, an overly optimistic view of American society and the "American dream." Plus - some folks feel more comfortable in their own communities, whether the community seems like a "ghetto" to an outsider isn't really relevant. And unaccented English isn't an indicator of poverty/class, is it?

Look - I'm not a fan of the film either, but I definitely think some of your analysis was problematic, at best. Not because the film was above the scrutiny, but because your choice of examples relies on flawed and questionable reasoning. I'm not saying the bias was intentional, but it was present.