In the amazing, disquieting movie Crash, writer-director Paul Haggis confronts a whole rainbow of stereotypes—and the fact that most of us are more prejudiced, and in more ways, than we'd like to think.

In Crash, an affluent white woman slips an arm through her husband's and draws him near as two young black men walk toward them. "She got colder as soon as she saw us," grumbles one of the men, who also complains about being disrespected in the diner they just left. "You see any white people waiting 132 minutes for a plate of spaghetti?" he asks. And when his friend points out that the waitress was black, too, he responds, "You don't think black people think in stereotype?" When the two indeed turn out to be muggers, the husband (an ambitious district attorney) frets, "Why did these guys have to be black? No matter how we spin this, I'm either going to lose the black vote or the law-and-order vote." To counter the bad PR, he wants to be photographed pinning a medallion on a dark-skinned cop. Regrettably for him, the first eligible candidate is an Iraqi named Saddam.

And that's just the beginning. Through the film's wildly diverse characters—black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, overly pampered, tattooed, and drug addicted, all intersecting because of a car accident—Canadian writer-director Paul Haggis targets every permutation of racial prejudice he could find in Los Angeles. A carjacking in his adopted home of almost 30 years was the genesis for the film.

"When I came out of the shock, I was intensely curious about those two kids who took the car. I wondered who they were, if it was the first time they'd done this, how long they'd been friends, if they were friends. And then I thought of the guy who came to change our lock at 2 in the morning—what if he'd been Hispanic, with shaved hair and a baggy T-shirt? I hate asking myself troubling questions."


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