I first came to know about Paul Haggis's Crash (2004) almost 16 years after it got released. I was writing a paper on urban anthropology and going through books and articles for my literature review. And suddenly cross references about Crash kept coming. Rivke Jaffe and Anouk de Koning's 2016 book Introducing Urban Anthropology considers this film to be a seminal in understanding the issues pertaining to urban crises including those of identity, racism, xenophobia, communication gap, crime and the like.
Watch the trailer of Crash here
Both critically acclaimed, commercially successful and at the same time bitterly criticized for its White-centric spiritual rhetoric as a preached resolution for urban racial tension, this film has drawn the attention of the academics for different reasons: the film students study this film for its cinematography and screenplay, researchers of social science are interested in its portrayal of the racial tensions within the urban catalysts while urban anthropologists look into its employment of urban space as a potential site of conflict, tension and resolution. And, my interest lies in the latter. Set in the urban hood of Los Angeles, this film portrays LA as the melting pot of multi-ethnic immigrants- the Chinese, the Koreans, the Iranians, the African Americans, the Hispanic, the Latin Americans, and the like. What impresses me most of the film is the exploitation of urban space including sidewalks, streets, stores, restaurants as the potential scope for racial tension and how such tensions segregate the space accordingly, i.e. space where the White Americans are expected in contrast to space where the immigrants, especially the African Americans are more familiar.
The unspoken spatial demarcation leads to intercultural discomfort and sometimes overlapping of space and thus ensues conflict. Anthony and Peter's (starring Ludacris and Larenz Tate) carjacking of the white District Attorney can be seen as an impulsive outcome of a couple of carjackers who are disgruntled with White supremacist attitude of the neighborhood. Though criticized for its spiritual underpinning (e.g. Farhad's belief that angel saved him and the little Hispanic she shot out of economic frustration) calling the film an over-dramatization of real crisis, Oscar winning (for Best Picture) film Crash apply incorporates a more-or-less comprehensive image of the inter-racial crisis and spatial organization according to citizenship status, i.e. American or African American or immigrants.
The screenplay of Crash includes substantial amount of racially charged insults and slurs in its narrative which might unveil a subconscious psyche that racial tension creates among the inhabitants. A discourse analysis of such offensive diction can disclose farther origins of racial conflict. One interesting reading regarding the use of public transport in the US reveals that using public transport of get around the city is related to "poverty, stigma and shame".
Moreover, Haggis smartly employed the study result that in LA, the level of carcinogenic diesel exhaust is higher inside the school buses than outside them. In one scene, Anthony and Peter (African-American characters) discuss why the city buses have large windows. Their ironic conclusion that the windows serve to display the Black people and their poverty to the urban dwellers also connotes the link between the traffic, public transport and economic disparity in LA. Despite a balanced screenplay, Haggis's Crash oftentimes seems too calculative in the offenses committed by both the white Americans and Black African Americans and/or immigrants.
While an upper-middle-class black woman character gets digitally raped by a white police officer, an upper class white district attorney gets robbed of his flashy car by black carjackers; while a black character (Anthony) offends another Hispanic director with urban slurs and offensive comments, a white police officer calls his white colleague racist; while the white police officer verbally abuses the black nurse, the black carjackers throw offensive slurs to the white wife of the district attorney.
The director's hint at the emotional panacea, i.e. little compassion and mutual understanding and respect can redirect the racial tension to a more accommodative co-existence, evokes the reconsideration of affective concern (an intimate reading of emotion, feeling and sentiment) in popular culture. Urban anthropological problematics like urban inequality, urban mobility and automobility, walking in the city, traffic can be evoked through the critical reading of visual material like Paul Haggis' Crash.