Thursday, October 20, 2005

(before i bitch, please visit studpoet's site. her most recent post is super genius.)

revenge of the race film, or why
crash sucked: open letter #5


dear paul haggis,
cc: oprah winfrey

though i dug million dollar baby, i didn't like your movie crash. i wasn't gonna say anything, but then the divine ms. o had a show about it last week, so i thought i'd write. not that i haven't driven that whole oprah aspect of my gig into the ground. either way, her show brought your wack ass film back into my memory. well, it wasn't just her. two fellow black women bloggers said they dug your flick, and that kind of perplexed me. i hadn't really talked to anyone who liked your movie. deshi and nahmix and i all saw it together a while back, and i'm pretty sure we all left the theater with a "wtf?" look on our faces. yet since i highly respect both of the women who said they liked your movie, i thought i'd think about it more. because, you know, maybe there was other shit contributing to my hatred of your movie. let's see...
  1. i saw your flick downtown, and i had to look for parking for a while before i found it. anyone who has ever really had to look for parking in chicago knows the kind of anger this spawns. it's an i wanna ram my front end into that hummer who fucked up the parking rotation (why couldn't s/he just pull up a bit more?), i wanna hit pedestrians preventing me from turning, why is that street sign so incomprehensible? kind of anger.
  2. i abhor going to the movies. i mean, you pay 10 bux to sit in seats with who knows what kind of stains on them. the ground is all sticky because some asshole spilled his 225 oz. soda, and some muhfucka keeps hitting the back of your chair with his/her knee because they're fidgety assholes with no concept of "someone is actually sitting in the chair in front of you."
  3. i was sober.
  4. wack ass customer service. lemme get this straight (prolly the only thing i'll ever get straight): you wanna charge me 8 dollars for some two-days old, stale ass popcorn and require that i, me my hotself, (myself be so hot) garnish the bag of popcorn with artery clogging butter?
  5. commercials. did i mention i paid 10 bux to get in this bitch? i can watch coke commercials for free. and at the crib, i can change channels. what happened to movie quizzes, and the lil animated spot of the mike and ikes and soda running into the theater?
  6. a lotta folks take oprah's word as a stamp of approval. i generally take oprah's word as a stamp of problematic wackness. when i (had) heard that she was allegedly running 'round calling that hermes incident her crash moment, i knew your flick was prolly gonna piss me off.
yet, despite coming to terms with the variety of issues that may have influenced how i saw your movie, i still wasn't quite convinced when over lunch saf said something to the effect that crash was the prolly the best race film we've had in a while. really? ok. just like i assaulted her with my laundry list of reasons why this shit was a waste of film, i thought i'd send it to you. so, you know, the next time you think of writing a race film, maybe you'll think twice.
  • mighty white of you. it is my understanding that "crashing" is the overriding theme of your film. ok. got it. don cheadle's character says some shit about people needing to crash into each other just to touch another person. but along with this, i believe i was supposed to leave this movie thinking about the idea that we "crash" into scenarios that force us to address shit like race and class. excuse me for being so frank, but: THAT IS THE WHITEST SHIT I HAVE HEARD THIS YEAR. (and that includes all the shit barbara bush and her idiot-ass son said during the hurricane kat(r)ina debacle.) excuse me for oversimplifying, but that is some white shit right there. any decent raced body running about this country doesn't "crash" into situations where he or she realizes that the person they are dealing with isn't the same race as they are. read any early 20th century african american novel (their eyes were watching god, the autobiography of an ex-coloured man, etc.); the evidence is all there. our lil janey, our lil unnamed narrator "falls" into race, screams "i'se negra" a la halle "make me feeeeel goooood" berry in queen, and goes on about their business. i am constantly maneuvering through this world as raced, sexed body. it doesn't all of a sudden dawn on me that i live in a primarily latino neighborhood, and just maybe my black ass sticks out like a sore thumb. the racial makeup of any situation is just some shit i mentally catalogue every time i socialize. wanna know how many folks of color were at such and such event? i can tell you off the top. and i don't feel burdened by it, it just comes with the territory. i don't have to "crash" into another muhfucka to realize this. it seems to me that the only folks who are surprised, and therefore "crash" into dealing with shit like race are (privileged) white folk, and black chicks suffering from hilary banks syndrome.**
  • next time you wanna talk about black nationalism, don't. to put it mildly, your character development fucking sucked. how about we make the asian model minority not a model minority? that shit is um, so not genius to anyone with any decent knowledge of the way race works, silly...mexicans with invisible capes and blank bullets? como agua para chocolate anyone? why, how magical realism of you. gabriel garcia marquez et. al. should kick your ass all up and through central and south america. and that whole ludacris character? ludicrous. if the world needs anything, it's a robinhood, car-jacking nig (he only steals from rich white people) breaking down the racial politics of a given situation. it seems to me that you pepper his speech with some black nationalist rhetoric, which is, like mad problematic. just what the world needs: a car-jacking marcus garvey. as if the ideology isn't already one of the most misunderstood things in this country. i'm not saying that the ideology isn't super problematic and flawed. yet at the same time, i understand why people are attracted to it. you, obviously, don't. i left the film believing that you regard this movement as pretty much some of the dumbest shit ever, and you made no effort to really try to understand it on other people's terms. and the fucking terrence howard character really showing luda what's up?** plus you got anthony (ludacris' character) on some nat turner freeing thai slaves shit at the end of the movie? haggis, kiss my black ass. next time, read a book or call spike lee or something. (did i just suggest he call spike lee?)
  • new york...a couple towers...my pet goat. it's my understanding that this film is supposed to take place in a post 9/11 world. so, then, where dem a-rabs (long a, please) at? if you're gonna talk about race today, i figure they gotta be tops on your list. especially since for a hot second americans hated them more than black people. except for some gun shop owner who seems like he should live somewhere other than l.a. (forgive me. i have my own prejudices), no one says anything about it. i'd like to say that this was your effort to implicitly suggest how short our cultural memory is, but at this point, i don't wanna give you that kind of credit.
  • pc=pretty comical. so, everybody was all praising you because you let all your characters say racist shit. and i guess this is supposed to be groundbreaking because it forces people to really address how they think and talk about members of other races and such. and i'm not gonna join other critics who are on the whole "matt dillon would have never said that...it's so unrealistic" bandwagon, because imho, they don't get it either. and i'm not gonna talk about how i kinda sorta think you just wanted to see how you could get away with saying racist stuff without getting in trouble. don't get me wrong, i understand the temptation. i love epithets. and i kind of liken the impulse to make matt dillon-like speeches to those moments when as a kid i'd whisper curse words while i was alone because i wanted to know what it felt like to say "shit" (i giggled). rather, the whole oversaturation of the film with racist rhetoric is most problematic to me not because it's unrealistic (which it is), but because if this is supposed to be the film on race in 21st century america then you have to figure out a way to do the exact opposite of what you did. let me unpack that. i am not a fan of the politically correct. i think it limits language and precludes people from having honest discourse about what's going on in the world because they are too afraid they'll offend. to compound that, there is already an extreme paucity of language when it comes to race and racism. it's either racist, or it's not. there is very little, if any, gray area. thus, it seems to me if you really wanna talk about race today in america, you have to figure out a way to film people being handicapped by language, not showing them becoming the most eloquent mofos on the planet with the ability to spit the history of affirmative action policy in a single bound. it's because of this debilitating silence that white people keep crashing into race and such and don't know what to say. then again, who the hell am i?
  • unlike the d.o.c., someone can do it better. this letter is already super long. so i'll just say: i saw both grand canyon and magnolia. don't try that shit at home anymore, paul.
so, yeah. despite the crankiness that i approached your movie with, there were enough issues in the film for me to still give it too middle fingers up. then again, i'm not film skolar, though i've been known to segment a film with some decency. but since when has lack of knowledge of something prevented a grad student from talking about that shit anyway? exactly.

don't get me wrong, i wasn't bored by your movie. i laughed my ass off. it's just that next time you wanna show me a race movie, i'd much rather watch mahalia jackson singing "trouble of the world".

thanx.

sincerely,
summer m., unofficial voice of the race

ps: i was really happy when sandra bullock's character fell down the stairs.

open letter #1
open letter #2
open letter #3
open letter #4

**hilary banks syndrome is a term used to describe what saf calls "white-identified black chicks."


language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison

9 Comments:

Blogger jb said...

Genius. Is it too late to request an open letter to Marc Foster?

20/10/05 17:28  
Blogger summer m. said...

@jalylah: many thanx. marc foster? monster's ball dude, right? (correct me if i'm wrong.) sure thing. it'll make up for my as of now unfulfilled pledge to blog on arsenio hall.

20/10/05 18:02  
Blogger Phoenix said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

20/10/05 18:32  
Blogger Phoenix said...

so, yes. thank you. i did appreciate the movie. for lots of reasons that i'm sure we'll get into at another time. but i'd like to add an additional bullet to your shit list in the meantime.

(i mighta had a memory lapse since i got a b.a. in comparative women's studies from spelman college and all, but i did make note of my issue while watching the movie. unfortunately, i didn't give it enough respect for it to be a focal point in my overall analysis.)

in all of the stories about everybody, where in hell's tarnation was the story about a (non-biracial) black woman? nona gaye and loretta devine were the only other black women in the movie and their existences were so peripheral and secondary that they hardly even counted.

the most poignant part of the movie for me was between thandie newton and matt dillon. deep pain. boundless tears. i remember Saartjie Baartman and all the others who came before. yet her experience was only superficially acknowleged and in the bullshit myth of the 'strong black woman,' no one was there to hold her hand and let her know that that shit is completely unacceptable. no one even acknowledged the f*cked up spot in history where that story convieniently took its place. she just had to pick up the pieces and keep it moving. she was expected to be strong for her man and put her experience on the back burner to make sure he was alright.

in a movie about race and intersectionalities, how could a black woman's experience not be present and fully explored? why do we only see what's palatable and instantly digested as norm? why was nona so silent/silenced? why was loretta so bold and definat? what are their stories? how are black womyn still invisible this many centuries later?

20/10/05 18:36  
Blogger Jdid said...

I liked the movie too although oprah's approval now disturbs me highly.

It wasnt perfect but compared to the average hollywood b.s it was pretty decent in that it might actually start a dialogue even if the dialogue is about the mistakes the film makers made.

I got mad beef with the film too but my biggest beef was they tried to justify the racism of the white characters. (As you rightly said the character development needd some work). Sandra Bulluck was racist cause she got car jacked, Matt Dillon was racist cause his pops was or because of some silly scene between him and Loretta Devine or whatever. I think thats b.s. Its never that simple . Am I supposed to feel for Sandra Bullock at the end. Caucasian please!

Anyway Sum (wait a sec am I allowed to call you that or is that like a name for people in the inner circle) while I dont totally agree with you here, I got to analyse your post so you've done a great job of getting me to rethink that movie. good work

21/10/05 06:09  
Blogger Amadeo said...

"screams "i'se negra" a la halle "make me feeeeel goooood" berry in queen"

I keep thinking she got an oscar for that shyt?

24/10/05 14:09  
Blogger Safire said...

Ummm, with my hand held over my face in abject shame after being identified as a fan of this movie, the only thing that I have the guts to say is I was really happy hwen Sandra Bullock's character fell down the stairs, too. I thought it was poetic justice.

25/10/05 01:54  
Blogger summer m. said...

@phoenix: hell to the yes. saf and i would conclude any movie we watch with, 'and the black woman still can't get no love after alla that.' or something like that. she always just ends up at the bottom, no matter what. the mule of the world, i guess.

and also...thankyouthankyouthankyou for that super astute observation on biraciality,etc. i hadn't picked up on that, but now that you say it, it's all there. even i fall victim of ignoring a black woman. (if i'm not trying to sleep with her, i suppose.) oh, this whitemaleheteronormativecapitalisticracist... society!!!!

@diddy: sure you can call me sum. though i would agree with you about the film sparking dialogue, i'm not convinced folks are talking about where the film went wrong. i think they are highly invested in what the film did right. so, i still don't think we're gonna get "anywhere" if folks are actually talking about crash. call me an obnoxious, arrogant asshole, but (my) people just don't and won't get it. not by praising this movie, at least.

@amadeo: yeah yo. but peep phoenix's comment for an explanation of it all.

@saf: abject shame? por que? i'm still convinced you (or phoenix) could convince me why this movie wasn't a waste of film. i just wasn't trying to hear that shit at pizza capri the other day.

25/10/05 08:16  
Blogger Morcy said...

I haven't seen this flick, but that bit about crashing that you mention above is precisely on what we talked about a lot in class last year, and it's interesting that Oprah would take on the position of needing crashing.

That is, when you're the normative subject, you can float through your every day life with nothing tripping up. Like Jerry in that ep of Seinfeld that reran yesterday, you always end up even. When you're pushed to the margin in some way (race, class, sexuality, gender, etc.), then, suddenly, you start tripping on stuff all the time. Your daily interaction is an endless "crash moment," just like you say.

Hence, if it takes a snooty frenchman assuming Oprah to be some crazy maghreb who wants to rip off Herm├Ęs for Miss O to realise that she's not a transcendent, unobstacled subject, does that mean that money/success/fame has made her a white man?

25/10/05 13:16  

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