REPRESENT talks to writer-director Paul Haggis, of 2005’s Crash.

Represent Talks to Paul Haggis About Crash, 10 Years After It Won Best Picture

Represent Talks to Paul Haggis About Crash, 10 Years After It Won Best Picture

How the past two decades will shape the future.
Sept. 22 2016 2:51 PM

“Why Ain’t We Scared?”

A conversation with Paul Haggis about Crash.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Jemal Countess/Getty Images and Lisa Larson Walker/Slate.
Paul Haggis and Aisha Harris.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Jemal Countess/Getty Images and Lisa Larson Walker/Slate.

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When Paul Haggis’ Crash was released in 2005, film critic David Edelstein, then of Slate, was not impressed, calling its overwrought storytelling about modern-day race relations “preposterous at every turn.” In the film, a hodgepodge of mid-’00s midlevel stars—including Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, Brendan Fraser, Matt Dillon, and yes, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges— “crash” into one another, both figuratively and literally, while trumpeting grandiose, offensive racial stereotypes.

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But Edelstein was in the minority then; it’s hard to believe now, but there once was a time when the indie film was, if not beloved, at the very least, well-liked by most critics and audiences. In his four-star review, Roger Ebert wrote admiringly, “the characters seem real and plausible after only a few words. [Haggis’] cast is uniformly strong; the actors sidestep clichés and make their characters particular.” Crash currently holds a 75 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and grossed nearly $100 million worldwide, on a budget of less than $10 million.

And then it beat out Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain at the 2006 Oscars ceremony—and suddenly, Crash came to encompass everything people despise about the awards, and, by extension, Hollywood. Ten years later, it’s widely viewed as the “safe” choice for voters who wanted to pat themselves on the back for nominating a socially conscious film, but not one that was too progressive in the way that the cowboy love story was. Awarding the film Best Picture was, perhaps “the worst voting decision in academy history.” And it’s become the laughingstock poster-child for Hollywood movies about white progressive guilt. In this special episode of Represent, Haggis spoke with me about the criticisms he’s received over the years, and how he views Crash today.

Check out what the critics had to say:

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Production by Veralyn Williams.

Aisha Harris is a Slate culture writer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.