An article on Yahoo! News sent me down Movie Memory Lane this week.
At the 2006 Academy Awards, Jack Nicholson announced that Crash was the winner of Best Picture. Since I lived in Atlanta at the time, I was able to see all the nominees on the big screen. I remember clapping with delight when the film won--partly because I really liked the movie but mostly because I was ready to go bed after 3+ hours of television. I had seen Crash twice and was deeply moved by the stories that wove into one story. I had left the theater in self-examination. What were my prejudices? How was I like--and unlike--some of those characters?
The next day, when I arrived on campus theology classes, I felt like I the only one clapping. The common area was alive with discussion about "the worst Best Picture winner ever." I overheard people saying that Crash treated racial issues too broadly, generically, melodramatically, ridiculously, and anything else that ended in "ly." (As a side note: Theology students love multiple-syllable words, even if a one-syllable word could get the same point across.)
I understood their perspective. There were some great films nominated for Best Picture. Crash had its flaws. Racial issues were--and are -- more complex than what the film portrays.
But the "worst Best picture ever"?
The news article that came out this week quotes the film's writer-director Paul Haggis as saying that he would not have voted for Crash to receive Best Picture, resurrecting decade-old criticism of the film. What caused me to pause and ponder the article was not Haggis' statement but the words of a writer for the Atlanta Monthly, who "threatened to ban any of his readers who tried to defend the movie."
Wouldn't that cause further division over a film trying to point out how easily divided we already are?
For a long time, especially in the past year, the daily news has reminded us that racial issues still lead to tension, injustice, and violence. No matter how much time has lapsed since Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech or the march on Selma or the publication of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, division is still a reality in many of our racial relations. When I read articles like this one, what concerns me is how quick we are to assign the extreme label of "worst." Words can so quickly polarize us instead of drawing us into deeper dialogue.
Instead of debating whether Crash was the "worst best" ever, why not look at the marvelous films that have come out since then about race relations? Instead of asking what the film did wrong, why not get to the root of our strong emotional responses to it?
In the trailer for Crash, Don Cheadle's character describes our interactions as, "Nobody touches you. We're all behind this metal and glass. Sometimes we gotta crash into each other just to feel something."
To think he said that before the smartphone became part of the metal and glass separating us...
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us (Ephesians 2:13-14, NRSV)
Hostility between us is not only about race but also about our human condition. We fight. We bicker. We disagree. Standing in the middle of it all is the Prince of Peace who longs for us find peace with one another.
Crash may not have been a perfect film, but it told stories of people at their worst and at their best. Perhaps in the cross of Christ we can see how God transforms the worst in us into the best for his kingdom.
all good things to each of you,