Monday, November 07, 2005

there but for the grace of a '97 honda civic

At this moment I am still reeling from the intensity of Crash, which B and I watched on DVD last night. At this moment France is noticing that not all of France is French. And at this moment I am reading my third novel in six months about black people written by a white author.

I feel like all of these things are related and that there is something important to be said or learned, but I’m not sure what.

Crash says a lot of what needs to be said about race—especially race in LA—in a more complex, honest and brutal manner than any I’ve seen on film. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a series of vignettes in which the lives of Angelnos collide (quite literally, car town that we are) and often turn violent as a result ethnic tensions and prejudices. A white cop saves the life of a black woman when her car flips over, but she wouldn’t have been driving in an agitated state if that same cop hadn’t pulled her over and molested her and humiliated her husband the night before. But that cop might not have had it in for black people if his dad hadn’t gotten laid off as a result of affirmative action. But there wouldn’t have been a need for affirmative action if it weren’t for slavery. And back and back and back.

One of the most refreshing things about the movie—and I know “refreshing” is a word to describe lemon-lime soda, not a movie that makes your heart explode—was that it wasn’t just black and white. There were Persian, Korean and Salvadoran-Puerto Rican people in the mix, all treating each other just as suspiciously.

It’s a forceful film, and I found myself—when not sobbing or actually saying “no, no” at the TV, the latter of which, at least, is not my normal movie-watching habit—searching the screen for one through-and-through good person. But even beyond race, a central idea of the movie is that we are all capable of acting horrifically, especially when others confirm our worst fears. In which case we turn around and confirm others’ worst fears.

I’m sometimes overly empathetic, but I came away from the movie fully convinced that there is a parallel universe in which I would rob and beat people—or at least have a housekeeper whom I would treat like shit—and that the only reasons I haven’t are: luck, privilege, naïveté, Chris Cunningham’s classes at UCLA and the fact that I’m too rich to be a carjacker and too poor to be carjacked. (Well, knock on wood—I’m sure someone out there would jack a ’97 Honda Civic that makes a funny humming noise when it starts up given the opportunity.)

At this moment I’m kind of at a loss. The other day my friend Annette described listening to a professor at an experimental writing conference “explain how her equations would take down the patriarchy.” So, um, we’ll see if the prof has any luck with that. In the meantime….


Anonymous said...

I loved that movie too, but not in the same way I like most movies. I'm sure we said "no, no" at the same time point- the part with the little girl, right? I was going to turn the movie off at that point if it didn't turn out ok.

Cheryl said...

Yep, that would be the part.