Even the director of ‘Crash’ wouldn’t have voted for it for Best Picture

Sunday night at 8, HBO debuts the first two hours of “Show Me a Hero,” a new miniseries co-written by “The Wire” creator David Simon and directed by Paul Haggis, an Emmy and Oscar-winning writer and sometime director, whose movie “Crash” won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2006.

Last month, Haggis and I had a long talk about his career, his shifts between movies and television, and “Show Me a Hero.” It was a really interesting conversation, and I recommend reading the whole thing.

That said, I know how the internet works, and I know that one passage of the interview would overwhelm all discussion of the rest of it, so I'm making this separate post just on that portion, in which we discuss the controversies over “Crash,” its depiction of race relations, and the many people – Paul Haggis included, it turns out – who don't think it should have won Best Picture that year.

“Crash” won you the Oscars, but you”re well aware there was some level of backlash to it and to its portrayal of race relations.  You”re now going into this where race is again a big subject.  Was there any part of you that said, “I don”t need that headache again”?

Paul Haggis:    Oh, no. The opposite. Dealing with the issues of race and class again, I knew there would be those who think, “Why is he doing this again?”  I like being scared.  If I”m not scared I”m not happy.  This is an important story. It happened right there.  It happened 30 minutes from here and a few years ago.  And it”s happening right now.  And if we don”t tell the story who will?  

That”s a movie you”re obviously very proud of, but was there anything in the criticism that came up after that made you say, “Okay, maybe they have a point,” or do you just disagree with what was being said?

Paul Haggis:    I”ll give you an example.  On “Crash,” what I decided to do early on was present stereotypes for the first 30 minutes.  And then reinforce those stereotypes.  And make you feel uncomfortable, then representing it to make you feel very comfortable because I say, “Shh, we”re in the dark.  It”s fine, you can think these things.  You can laugh at these people. We all know Hispanics park their cars on a lawn, and we all know that Asians can”t drive in the dark.  I know you're a big liberal, but it's okay, nobody's going to see you laugh.” As soon as I made you feel comfortable, I could very slowly start turning you around in the seat so I left you spinning as you walked out of the movie theater.  That was the intent.  Now if you saw “EZ Streets,” you know that I don”t usually write stereotypes.  But that was what I decided to do.  So when the criticism came later – “Oh my God, it”s full of stereotypes” – I went went, “Oh my God, you”re a genius.  Really?  Wow! That”s remarkable, really!  I should have corrected that.”  No.  So when you”re doing something that”s different I think people are always going to say things, but it amused me more than anything. 

Was it the best film of the year?  I don”t think so. There were great films that year.  “Good Nigh and Good Luck,” amazing film.  “Capote,” terrific film.  Ang Lee”s “Brokeback Mountain,” great film.  And Spielberg”s “Munich.”  I mean please, what a year.  “Crash” for some reason affected people, it touched people.  And you can”t judge these films like that.  I”m very glad to have those Oscars.  They”re lovely things.  But you shouldn”t ask me what the best film of the year was because I wouldn”t be voting for “Crash,” only because I saw the artistry that was in the other films.  Now however, for some reason that”s the film that touched people the most that year.  So I guess that”s what they voted for, something that really touched them.  And I”m very proud of the fact that “Crash” does touch you.  People still come up to me more than any of my films and say, “That film just changed my life.”  I”ve heard that dozens and dozens and dozens of times.  So it did its job there.  I mean I knew it was the social experiment that I wanted, so I think it”s a really good social experiment.  Is it a great film?  I don”t know.

Click here to read the rest of the Paul Haggis interview about “Show Me a Hero.”