I attended a Feb. 25 screening of Crash at Austin Boulevard Christian Church. As most of you know, Crash is a series of vignettes of different genders, religions and races in Los Angeles who metaphorically “crash” into one another’s stereotypes. It’s written and directed by Paul Haggis, who won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
The diverse local crowd at the screening featured an excited, standing-room-only audience of mostly middle-aged adults and senior citizens. There were some youth. The crowd was split racially between black and white with perhaps a couple of mixed-race people there. Before the screening, I spoke with longtime Oak Park resident Sherlynn Reid about the movie’s significance, as well as some local black events taking place at the time. Sherlynn asked that in honor of the movie’s theme of inclusion that the recently launched Black Suburban Bus Tour include a visit to Geraldine McCullough’s studio as well as her beautiful sculpture outside of Village Hall. “It’s not often that local black artists and sculptures receive their proper recognition,” said Sherlynn. “Maybe with the tour, we can get it right.” Her daughter Dorothy agreed.
As the audience packed a basement screening room, most sipping coffee and eating cookies, they were greeted by Sy Bounds or Dorothy Ragsdale, the two charming local residents who seemed to be the common link between most of the attendees. While most people were there for the rich and wonderful conversation after the screening, and of course for a free chance to see this Oscar-nominated (at the time) film, I was there to see how the crowd responded to the movie. This is what I found. The biggest laughs seemed to occur when Larenz Tate and Ludicris, both playing socially conscious carjackers who tried only to steal from whites in what they defined as a political act, were on screen.
“Am I dressed like a thief?” a preppy-clad Ludicris asks Tate.
Ludicris: Do I look like a thief?
Ludicris: Then why are white women here fearful of us?
“Could it be that we have guns?” Tate queries as the pair pull out long pistols to carjack a frightened, but not surprised, Sandra Bullock.
Perhaps we were all laughing to keep from crying when these two black males exited a film in Los Angeles’ tony Westwood neighborhood only to receive fearful looks from Sandra Bullock (who incidentally, with Don Cheadle, was one of the film’s celebrity producers).
Since so many of the black males in the audience could relate to being mistaken in this seemingly tolerant village for a pathological model based in whites (and some blacks’) fears of African-American males, this funny scenario with this pair of comical clowns seemed to hit us all where we lived. It made others stir in their seats, perhaps by bringing up deep-seated fears not often talked about in public.
Without giving away too much of the plot, you get the sense that comedy and drama, laughter and tears and all the other bipolar opposites one can imagine are played out on the screen?”and in our heads. This local audience responded to scene after scene that reminded all of us of our seemingly instinctive need to categorize people into groups of “Us-versus-Them.”
I didn’t stay for all of the discussion afterward because I was later attending the opening of a black nightclub, “Caf Bugi,” in the 6300 block of Roosevelt Road in Berwyn. Did you see what you just did, “a black club in Berwyn”? That’s what this film is talking about. Welcome to Crash.