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Intercultural Barriers in Film

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I selected the movie Crash to discuss the intercultural barriers in film for my paper. First of all, it is one my favorite movies so it was an easy decision. Crash is set in Los Angeles, California. The city is a melting pot of cultures; an ideal setting to highlight the racial and social tensions within the large cast of characters. The cast intersects in and out of each other’s lives throughout the story’s plot. The movie starts with a cop played by Don Cheadle is in a car accident with his partner and girlfriend played by Jennifer Esposito. He gets out of the car to investigate a scene of a murder; then the movie cuts to thirty six hours earlier. In the next scene, a Persian man and his daughter are in a gun shop attempting to buy a gun. The gun shop owner gets angry because they are speaking in their native language. The owner believes they are Arab and makes references to 9-11. He demands them to leave. The Persian man is escorted out but the daughter stays. She demands the gun or her money back. The shop owner hands over the gun. The plot is gripping as it turns and twists to include each unrelated character and weave them in and out of each other’s lives. It is a remarkable story of intercultural barriers.

The local district attorney, Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) and his wife, Jean (Sandra Bullock) are walking to their car when they get car jacked by two black men. Cut to the next scene, Rick is having the locks changed by a Latino male named Daniel. Jean sees the locksmith’s tattoos and how he is dressed. She stereotypes him as a “gangbanger.” She interprets his nonverbal cues that he will sell her key to his gang and rob them. She judges Daniel on the how he is dressed. He is wearing his pants low. She also feels superior to him. Her ethnocentrism is a large barrier to effective communication and intercultural competence. She didn’t behave appropriately or wasn’t sensitive to his cultural differences. She wasn’t interested to adapt her behavior.

Jean screams at Rick instructing him that she wants the locks changed again because she believes the locksmith (Michael Pena) is a gangbanger and will sell a copy of their key to his gang friends. She doesn’t care that Daniel
can hear her. In reality, Daniel is a great father trying to make ends meet. He recently moved into a better neighborhood because of a stray bullet that just missed his daughter. He didn’t want his daughter to live in fear. Jean cannot get past the ethnocentrism, stereotyping, prejudice and different communication codes to see any of Daniel’s great qualities. Just as Jean wants to protect her son by changing the locks, Daniel wants to protect his daughter by moving into a better neighborhood. Both characters have a lot in common. Jean was so rigid in categorizing him furthering the negative impact of their meeting.

Jean could have used social decentering to increase intercultural interactions. Social decentering is a process in which the person takes into account the other person’s thoughts, feelings, perspectives, backgrounds, and values. Jean would have viewed the world through Daniel’s eyes before making those prejudiced comments. She would not have made a generalization based on how he was dressed or his tattoos. She would have had a conversation with him and attempted to get to know him before she made a snap decision. Jean could also benefit from being other-oriented. She could use knowledge of intercultural communication and ways to adapt to Daniels’ culture. She needs to be culturally competent and adapt her behavior accordingly.

Another scene of intercultural barriers plays out between the Los Angeles Police Department and a prominent black television producer and his wife. The two cops played by Matt Dillion, (Ryan) and Ryan Phillipe, (Tom) pull over a couple played by Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton. The police learn of a stolen SUV and the couple is driving a vehicle that matches that description. Tom shouts to Ryan that the plates do not match but Ryan pulls them over anyway. Ryan is in a bad mood; he also is racial profiling. He made the wrong assumption but he thought the woman (Christine) was white and the man (Cameron) was black which offended him. He also was ethnocentric in that he felt he was superior to the couple. Christine was under the influence and argues with the cops since it was totally unnecessary to stop the vehicle. He asks Cameron to step outside the vehicle. He sexually assaults Christine under the pretense of a pat down in front of her husband totally humiliating him in the process. He assumes that the couple has nothing in common with him. In the end, Terrence Howard’s character apologizes to the police which angers his wife. The police let the couple go with a stern warning.

Ryan’s assumption of his culture’s superiority caused his rash decision to pull Christine and Cameron over that night. I believe if Ryan didn’t had not’t noticed the black and white couple performing the sex act and rendering his social judgment, he would have done the right thing and let them be. Tom ran the plates. Ryan should have kept driving. Ryan had no reason for pulling them over. He stereotyped them based on his prejudices of biracial couples. Ryan assumed the couple had nothing in common with himself. They argued on the street. The intercultural barriers affected them from having any communication.

Ryan could have benefited from being other-oriented. First, Ryan should develop skills to adapt to others. He made reference later in the movie to his years in the force and how that formed his view of other cultures. If Ryan could develop flexibility and learn to go with the flow; he would be a better police officer. He would not have pulled Cameron and Christine over. Second, Ryan should put himself in the couple’s shoes. They did nothing wrong that night. If Ryan responded appropriately, he would have avoided the situation entirely. He would not have judged them based purely on their race. Last, Ryan would have adjusted his behavior to accommodate other culture’s differences and expectations. Ryan needs to want to change his world view. He needs to be mindful of his inner dialogue; avoiding the negative judgments of other cultures. These strategies would remove the barriers and enable Ryan to communicate with other cultures.

The film, Crash is really a snapshot of America. The racial and social tensions in Los Angeles have been well documented in the media with the O.J. Simpson and the Rodney King headlines. I would like to believe that America has progressed since those events. America needs to embrace diversity and remove the barriers of intercultural communication. I would first ask more questions; learn other’s world view. It is these beliefs that shape who
they are as a person. Second, listen to the answers and listen effectively. I would consciously try to interact with a greater understanding and share of myself in the process. Last, I would try social decentering by putting myself in their point of view. By taking into account another’s feelings, values, thoughts, background and perspectives, I would improve my intercultural competence. These strategies applied would eliminate the barriers of intercultural communication.

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