Oprah and Crash

I have to admit that I did not always like Oprah. I had thought that Oprah was one of the feminists that I wouldn’t like, that instead of empowering woman, they trash man. Until recently I had not watched Oprah much, and I realized that she is actually a wonderful person. While I still hold on to Aaron MacGrueder’s quote; “We should all harbor a healthy fear of Oprah,” I think her TV show has done wonders for informing the public about situations all over the world and presented some of the best coverage I saw about the Katrina disaster.

Yesterday Oprah hosted the cast of Crash. If you have not seen the movie Crash and want to do it in the future, you might want to stop reading now. Crash is a very in your face movie about racism. I was very surprised to see the cast of stars that starred in the movie. This movie uses various stories that are connected via the characters. Everyone has something to do with everyone else on one level or another in the movie, ultimately connecting the various story lines together.

The movie starts with Don Cheadle speaking the following quote as his character Detective Graham Waters,

It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.

When I watched this movie I found its meaning so powerful that I had to write this post about human touch. I believe in the power of human contact to express affection, and it is a topic that has been researched by many. This is an interesting article by one of the first things I heard about it back in College even thought the article can be somewhat strong.

Oprah invited Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock and Ludacris to this panel discussion. They began by showing a clip of the movie where two young black man(one of them being played by Ludacris) are having a conversation about how white women (the one in the scene played by Sandra Bullock) will, upon seeing them, hold a little tighter to their husbands arm as they walk down the street. The conversation is about racism and it makes some excellent points, only seconds later you learn that the two black man are carjackers and are stealing a black Navigator from that same couple. This scene sparked the conversation about racism and fear. Racism can come from fear, fear based on prejudice. Prejudice is dictated not only by our environment but also society. Animals have instincts, when a gazelle out in the plains smells a lion it instinctually will run for its survival. Does the same rule apply here? Is that prejudice such a bad thing when you are just trying to protect yourself and your family?

The movie does a great job at posing those questions. It makes you look int the mirror and see that whether you like it or not you live in a society where stereotypes are as common and numerous as our clothes. Take me for example:

I am Colombian so I should know a lot about drugs, coffee and violence.
I am a gamer therefore I have no social skills and am an overall loser.
I am a biker so I must constantly break speed limits and get into a lot of bar fights.
I am a computer programmer, which makes me a geek incapable of discussing any subjects outside of software.
I have a tattoo, which makes me almost a criminal, and up to no good.

I have been a victim of all the generalizations before at one point or another in my life. Our society does not concentrate on individuals but on labels that categorize things around them. Anything different or out of the ordinary can make people nervous and in the end become prejudice. Now, how can we break down those barriers? One of the things I try to do is meet people from all walks of life and look at them as individuals. I am not perfect; I still fall prey of prejudice-fueled thoughts and stereotypes all the time.

Oprah continued showing clips from the movie. The next scene shows Matt Dillon playing a racist cop that takes care of his ill Father and then has to deal with, what seemed to him, an unhelpful and incompetent black insurance worker. Matt takes out his frustration on a black couple that he pulls over because they are driving a vehicle that meets the description of the recently stolen Navigator. During the stop Dillon dehumanizes the black couple played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton by humiliating the husband as he fondles his wife, feeling powerless and overtaken by a mixture of fear, shame and impotence. This is described as another “Crash” moment during the movie, a moment where people collide and race takes a forefront instead of the characters humanity. The movie has several twists and turns and some of the people get to see each other again under different circumstances. A lot of the situations are racially charged and will make people very uncomfortable, some more than others because of the emotional impact they carry. While all the characters play their race stereotype we can also see their human side and how we, even if we are not from the same race, can relate to their emotions.

I had seen Terrence Howard before in a couple of movies. I did not think he was an excellent actor before and I was dismissive of his work. After watching this movie and this interview I have a new respect for him as an actor and as a man. He has had a couple of “Crash” moments in real life. One as an adult when he was arrested after standing up in a plane to take his daughter to the bathroom, the incident was blown out of proportion and he spent a week in jail. This happened pre 9-11 and if you hear the full story you cannot feel anything but sorry for the guy. The other “Crash” moment is even sadder; while in a Santa line in the mall back in 1972 his Father was assaulted and then killed a man in self defense ending up in prison. His parents were both mixed, but his Father happened to be more Caucasian looking than his mother. His Father was saving their spot in the Santa line and when his wife and kids came back a man behind him complained to him about letting the n**** cut in line. His Father replied, “She is my wife.” The white man preceded to choke his him against a wall and started to beat him down… he fought back eventually killing the man and went to jail. I cannot imagine being an actor that has had to deal with so much racially motivated pain playing the scene where the cop feels up his wife.

The rest of the show was excellent; racism was discussed and defined by an expert. One fact that I learned is that 97% of women are raped by their own race. Oprah also brought up the use of the n**** word and how she wants to abolish it… surprisingly Don Cheadle feels that it should be ok for the word to be used between black people.

In conclusion Oprah presented us with an excellent panel that discussed a very good movie about a very touchy subject. I wish I could have told people to watch the show before hand, you can check out some of it on Oprah’s website or wait for a rerun. In the mean time go rent or buy the DVD.

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7 comments on “Oprah and Crash

  1. I haven’t seen this movie, but it’s been bumped around in my Netflix queue for some time. I’ve just bumped it to the top. =)

    You make a lot of excellent points in your post. I too face all sorts of discrimination and stereotypes: I’m Mexican, I’m Native American, I have tattoos and piercings, I’m a young father, etc etc. I do think there are types of discrimination that we need to just deal with, ones that come as a result of our choices, not that it makes them fair.

    You cannot, obviously choose your ethnicity or your place of birth. I chose to get tattoos and piercings, and I went into that lifestyle knowing full well the criticism I would receive. And that’s when I chose to be the exception to the stereotypes. People look at me strange when I walk into the bank, but when they see me interacting with my children (as I would on any day, any place) and goofing around with them, suddenly their sideways glances and irritated sighs turn into smiles and pleasantries. We must just accept that some people are just too set in their ways to change at this point in the game, and focus on showing the other people that their perceptions are wrong, through our actions. If we each take it upon ourselves to strive to break those stereotypes, however we can, I think we’ll start to see things get better.

  2. I agree with you John, about Oprah. I don’t know if you watch very closely, but whenever another woman (except for overweight women) accomplish something grand in their lives, she makes facial expressions almost as if she is jealous. I might be wrong, but I am weary and watch her carefully, as MacGrueder suggests.

    As far as the N-word, well, I agree with Oprah in that it needs to be abolished. I have had several debates with African Americans whom I know, about why we shouldn’t use it only with other African Americans. Check this out, a friend of mine took an African American history course, and again, the argument came up about whether or not the N-word should or should be used as a colloquialism, well, the professor said this: “I bet, that if everyone who wasn’t black called black people nigger, blacks would stop calling each other nigger in three days flat… and never call each other that name again”, BWAHAHA! That one made me laugh out loud in a restaurant, because darn it, it’s just SO true.

  3. Oh, and one more thing I felt I should write. I think, on the whole, that Oprah is a wonderful person, but money and power corrupts, and often, that is the reason I question people who command that authority, as she does.

  4. I’m not sure if I would consider myself a Oprah fan but I certainly find some of her segments very interesting. Crash is indeed an amazing movie. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It reminds me of the movie in some ways.

  5. I had the same reaction after seeing Crash, esp. the part about the fear/instincts. Stereotypes come from some truths, yet they always seem to get exaggerated.

  6. im doing a project on this movie for a college assignment and i need to get a hold of the episode where she discusses this so if anyone can point me in the right direction on where to watch it that would be very helpful.
    -thank you

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