Mallory Ortberg and Anne Helen Peterson are talking about Crash over at the Awl. In addition to re-capping all the reasons this movie, more than the many, many other mediocre Best Picture winners, deserves our continued condemnation, they make a good case for why we should still care about how bad Crash was. The whole conversation is worth a read, but Peterson concludes with a nod to the utility of popular art with questionable politics:
Because even when people stop renting Crash on Netflix, its legacy is still with us. It’s in The Blind Side, but it’s also very much in The Help. I’m actually surprised there isn’t a single “white people solve racism” film in this year’s Oscar bunch—it’s so incessant, so culturally assertive, so eager to be green-lighted by all manner of white execs who want to show that they’re willing to cast black actors so long as their salvation is rooted in the extravagances of white privilege. Crash hurts my soul—but it’s also an incredible teaching tool. When I’m talking about the mid-2000s in class, twenty years from now, I’ll be able to point to it as a perfect crystallization of all America wishes it was and all it was not. That’s a fucking tragedy, but that doesn’t mean I’m not glad this film exists. Traces matter, however repugnant.
Ortberg is less optimistic:
I think it’s wonderful that you think there will still be human teachers in American universities twenty years from now.
Judy Berman at The Atlantic argues that Girls’ race problem is both currently insoluble and indicative of a much larger systemic issue:
The solution isn’t to prohibit white writers from depicting non-white characters, or to require them to do so. Along with holding these famous names accountable for offensive representations, the US cultural mainstream desperately needs to make more space for writers and directors of color. Arguably more troubling than any of Django’s content is the convincing case David Sirota made that a black director would not even have been allowed to make a big-budget film about a former slave slaughtering slave owners.
Ta-Nehisi Coates recently argued that Dunham would be better off sticking to her “authentic self” than adding non-white characters that aren’t true to her life. He may be right, and in a world where the wealthy, white, well-connected Lena Dunhams always seem to end up in the spotlight, those who aren’t part of her elite world shouldn’t have to rely on her for representation. They need the same platform to be their authentic selves that she’s been afforded. Until the divisions between races in America truly become meaningless, it’s the only way our pop culture will ever reflect our particular patchwork of people and experiences.
Berman’s point is particularly important because it applies to many of our national conversations about race. While it’s much easier to treat racism as an issue addressed in individual situations, governed by the particulars of any given scenario, problems of racial representation and misrepresentation are nearly always related to the broader systemic and institutional forces governing race in America. And questions of privilege and access are ultimately much more significant than individual instances like Dunham, but those conversations don’t make for the sort of easily debated controversy that comes from focusing Dunham in isolation from the system that enabled her limited viewpoint.