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Racial Tensions in American “Crash” Movie Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Sep 9th, 2021

The 76th Academy Awards Best Picture winner Crash (2004) has not seen a uniform reaction in the global community. Many, from regular viewers to acclaimed critics, share the opinion that this is one of the best movies of all time, a thoughtful narrative of the socio-cultural problems in present-day Los Angeles. Others, on the other hand, retrospectively point towards the controversies in its plot and criticize the overly dramatic nature of the film. Nevertheless, Paul Haggis’ award-winning drama presents a resourceful tool to analyze the complexity of the racial tensions in the American West.

The plot presents a narrative of seven pairs of people of varying professions involved in some crime-related situation. The ethnic background of each character falls into five categories: white, Hispanic, black, mixed, and Asian. Overall, the film presents a realistic picture of racial tensions across the present-day United States, where people of different ethnicities exhibit ingroup-outgroup behavior when interacting with representatives of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. The film is determined to elicit strong emotional responses from its viewers, which is evident from the long, dramatic scenes involving critical moments of characters’ stories and the soundtrack accompanying them. Also, the portrayal of a Persian shop owner Farhad as a paranoid individual devoid of strong personality and motivations is bound to spread a stereotyped image of a Middle Eastern man, which is problematic for a movie aimed to show the ugliness of racism. Although the acting is strong and the plot is realistic, the movie’s victory of Academy Awards is doubtful and reflective of the state of the cinematic industry at the time.

However, the film has other strong characters with complex psychological backgrounds. For instance, the Hispanic locksmith Daniel Ruiz is a telling story of an individual going through the integrative awareness stage of ethnic identity development. This becomes clear early in the film when the character quietly leaves the house after overhearing an argument between Jean and Rick about changing the locks a second time. Hearing the district attorney’s wife call him an “amigo … [that is] gonna sell a key to one of his homies”, Daniel quietly places the house keys on the counter and leaves the room (Cheadle, D. et al. & Haggis, P., 2004). This act portrays his dignity of being a good member of a marginalized group, which points towards “a positive self-image and … strong sense of self-worth and confidence” (Sue & Sue, 2016). His reaction to being held at gunpoint by Farhad indicates that Daniel understands “potential differences in oppression” of another marginalized group. Thus, as compared to other characters in the film, which strongly exhibit the features of the “conformity” phase (Anthony and Peter), Daniel Ruiz understands his place in American society.

Although the cinematic features of the film could be improved and some of the characters better developed, the picture made me realize the complexity of American society and each of its members’ identity development. In a country as multifaceted as the US, keeping in mind that patients’ immediate social circle can contain individuals going through different phases of racial/ethnic identification is essential for correctly conducting therapy sessions. The film gave me a more practical understanding of the various issues described in the textbook and prepared me mentally for what my profession requires.


Cheadle D., Haggis P., Harris, M. R., Moresco, B., Schulman, C., Yari, B. (Producers), & Haggis, P. (Director). (2004). Crash [Motion Picture]. United States: Lionsgate Films.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2016). Counseling the culturally diverse: theory and practice (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Racial Tensions in American "Crash" Movie." September 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/racial-tensions-in-american-crash-movie/.


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