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A-List: Race in America

By Sean Collier

December 18, 2008

He must be wearing Sex Panther.

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A funny thing happened to me in Baltimore.

After spending the weekend enjoying and performing at the Baltimore Improv Festival, a few friends and I decided to take a tour of Camden Yards and grab lunch before setting off on the four-hour drive home. As I enjoyed a downright excellent Tuna Burger, someone smashed in the left rear window of my traveling companion's car and stole our luggage. The next few hours were spent pacing around angrily and chatting with police and an entertaining cast of garage personnel, followed by a windy and cold ride to Pittsburgh. I am not currently planning any return trips to "Charm City."

At one point in the endless conversation I had with the garage manager, she was commenting to a co-worker that a different garage under the same ownership had been robbed earlier in the day, and the supposed thief had been caught on tape. In the course of this conversation, she said, "Well, the guy they're looking for, he's..." She briefly turned to me. "Pardon my language." She turned back. "He's a white guy."

This was sort of a funny way of putting it � I did not know that "white guy" had reached the status of language that needs to be pardoned, for one thing � and it sort of got me thinking. We're awfully afraid of race, aren't we? I've always been for political correctness, but this situation was something else. The garage employee was black, and I was white, and so she was nervous about saying the phrase "white guy" in front of me.

I'm not sure what this means. I think, though, there's a chance that we strive so much to not speak racially, we've become afraid to speak frankly, lest we offend. If we're not careful, this tendency threatens to close some amount of cultural dialogue, which is a more precious thing than unflinching politeness.

That's a funny way to set up a column, but I wrote about Evil Dead last time, so I figured it was time to mix it up. This week's A-List contains some of my favorite movies that deal with race in America. (Bonus points: my gross-out column and this column will be linked by both zombies and John Waters!) There are obviously thousands of candidates for such a list, so let me say that these six films aren't necessarily the best � just my personal favorites.

With a friendly reminder to conceal your valuables in parking garages, The A-List presents my favorite films about race in America.




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Crash

I may well be the only BOP staff member who is a big fan of Crash. One of my favorite films of the last few years, Crash has proven very divisive, for any number of reasons: it notably offended certain Hollywood types by implying that L.A. was an inherently racist city, it infuriated fans of Brokeback Mountain by stealing a Best Picture Oscar at the last moment, and many critics and fans simply found it preachy and unrealistic. I, however, think it's perhaps the most gripping and moving story about racism I've ever seen. Paul Haggis' film starts with a simple premise: when in tense, violent situations, we have a natural tendency to default to ugly thoughts and behaviors, some of them racially flavored. Crash tests that theory on a wide cross-section of individuals in a somewhat mystical Los Angeles, and then slowly lets things unwind until any notion of good guys and bad guys has disintegrated. Less realism than a dark, gritty, fantastic experiment, Crash is a powerful, powerful movie.


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