Cultural Collisions

Participating in the Divine

Race relations used to be a pertinent and profitable topic in Hollywood’s movies. As multiculturalism rose in public consciousness, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) fueled the discussion. Los Angeles filmmakers followed with Boyz N the Hood, Grand Canyon, and Menace II Society. But Hollywood’s interest in simmering racial tensions seemed to vanish after the 1992 uprising. The fires that followed the acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King never inspired a feature film. Leave it to a Canadian to resurrect race in Hollywood drama.

In Crash, writer-director Paul Haggis draws upon all corners of Los Angeles to tell his story. The district attorney and his wife represent the wealthy Westside. They collide with carjackers from south Los Angeles. A Latino locksmith wants peace and quiet for his Eastside family. Persian immigrants invest all they have into stocking their convenience store. The Asian “model” minority are revealed as trafficking in more than math. Mediating this culture clash are the police, both the compromised and the committed. The dramatic tension arises from border crossings, when urban people cross into suburban areas, when divergent sensibilities crash into each other.

Crash is about elusive but essential human contact. The film opens with a lament: “In L.A., nobody touches you. We crash into each other just so we can feel something.” Its characters deal with issues of fear, how much time and money we invest in locks, in arming ourselves, in security. Yet the most secured homes are the loneliest. Crash illustrates our desperate desire to remain aloof, to stay out of the fray, to avoid contact. Amid a life-threatening car wreck, an injured woman cries out, “Please don’t touch me!”

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Sojourners Magazine December 2005
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