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Analysing Films “The Great Debaters” and “Crash”


The two films “The Great Debaters” and “Crash” both depict a story that points out to various but relatively the same general perspectives in a given society. Each movie attempts to visualize the racial attitudes, negative stereotypes, and discriminations among smaller groups involved. To begin with, the first film “The Great Debaters” is a film in 2001 which was based on an article made about the Wiley College debate team.

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The film was based on a true story and revolved around the exertions of debate coach Melvin B. Tolson, which was a character played by Denzel Washington. The twist is that the Wiley team portrayed the black team against the white Americans. The film seeks for the social environment of Texas as well amid the great depression that includes not only the usual insults and discriminations of African Americans but also a kind of killing.

One character was portrayed by James L. Farmer, Jr. who initiated an organization for the call of racial equality through the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Another character that should be put on highlight is the character portrayed by Samantha Booke who was the only female that joined in the first interracial debate in the United States, as whom the character plays for in real life. The film had prevailed that an unfair law can not be called law at all by any means. This justifies the treatment between the Blacks and Whites in the film and the real scenario. Another idea depicted was the lines of Farmer saying that a person should do things according to his or her own will and not because it is commanded by other people (Holden, 2007).

On the other hand, the second film “Crash” also depicts how life can be dangerous with instances that one might not think of happening. The film is a drama film in 2005 which was central to the racial and social tensions in Los Angeles. This was made through a real-life situation wherein an expensive car was carjacked outside a certain video store. It involved many characters who live in Los Angeles, California. In the film, the characters were brought together by the collisions of cars, carjacking, and shooting. The links between the characters in the story illustrated the deeper evaluation of the racial conflicts and the gap among the strangers in a wide manner (Holden, 2007).

Thus, the two films catered to the inference of racial issues in the society and how it largely affects the day-to-day interactions among them. Some scenes brought out negative scenarios where it portrayed drastic actions for each character.


Both movies intervene with the racial issues between the Blacks and the Whites. The first film presents a scenario wherein people collide in the form of a lynch mob. In this particular movie, the team of Black Americans which is portrayed by the Wiley debate team specifically beat The University of Southern California (Rich, 2007). While in the second film, two Black robbers, Anthony and Peter, were caught after they have carjacked an expensive car of a white couple.

The movies then made an effort to present an evaluation of the racial discrimination and negative stereotypes among black people. Carjackers were pointed out with the character of black people and this illustrated a negative matter where many criticisms are thrown over the issue in the story prejudices such as the underestimating what Blacks can do in the first film was somehow sensed though eventually, the blacks have proven that they can battle out with the Whites and show that they can do what they are aiming for.

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The explanation about each movie is said to be a crash course in unraveling the racial class divisions in American society which makes every stranger a potential enemy is indeed quite broad. The crash is a confrontational discourse on the issue of racism which is comprised of various instances and resulted in an unwanted result even by the people who appeared to be guilty of committing the carjacking. In that situation, it is explicitly shown that a gap exists between the societies’ positioning of the races through stereotyping that Blacks mostly make offensive things to their fellow. It was not pointed out that Blacks are bad though but it was presented as to how the characters shifted into robbers.

While on the “The Great Debaters”, the divisions were depicted in the scenes wherein a mob was launched between the two races as well as the hindrances that Tolson faced in training the debate team for the main event because of criticisms from other people (Rich, 2007). For instance, the members of the Wiley team that comprised the Black American students were hardly convinced to join the team because of their fear that they might be rejected. This certainly signifies that discrimination exists between the races and in each class division.

The roles and performances of the main characters portrayed realistic characters in society. As to how it was illustrated, the Blacks were discriminated by the Whites and underestimated their potentials in many aspects, likewise the prejudices that they receive from other social classes in their society. Some sociologists described this action as having a system for segmenting individuals according to the privileges that they can only get, irrespective of the people’s ability.

The Wiley debate team was regarded as incapable of winning the debate and hence they were not given too much privilege to express themselves. In addition, the team quite lost their confidence and self-esteem because of their race and how other people perceive them. While on the other film, it was not an intention for the black robbers to hurt another Black and instead express what they feel about the unfair treatment they get from the people.

As for how Anthony portrayed an African American character, he steals vehicles for a bigoted person. His character agrees to the unfair biased treatment for the Whites. One point in the film showed that he will never do such unfair treatment of another black person and this was proven through his actions. However, one scenario brought the people in disappointment when Anthony told his partner in crime, Peter, to shoot a black man. In that instance, the Black man (the owner of the car), explicitly showed his disappointment with the act of Anthony and Peter (Holden, 2007).

It had been significantly figured that the characters realistically played their respective roles and drastically revealed the emotions towards what can be visualized in the society. Scenarios such as the eagerness of Tolson for the debate team to express their feelings and show what they can do is evidence were in a progress for their race flaunted because they indeed deserve to be treated equally and take the opportunities as whites are experiencing.

Likewise in the case of “Crash”, it had dramatically prevailed that the black robbers are into expressing themselves as well as how they were treated separately from the whites. They attempted to take the privilege that accords to them and live their lives without disparity (Smedley et al., 2005).

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However, not only the main characters involved in the portrayal of Black people made the drastic scenes but also the people around them such as the character of Jean played by Sandra Bullock defended the side of other races at the end. Jean specifically increased her racial prejudices after their car was carjacked. But eventually, her insights were changed after realizing that one of the most significant persons for her is her Hispanic maid Maria. She realized such a thing after seeing that her fellow friends neglected her and did not show much importance for her unlike her recently- fired Hispanic maid.

This accounts for the justification of in-groups and out-groups in the given society. Prejudices such as being a racist and being in favor of the in-group attributes for various essences of looking at each class. This may entail a superiority complex among the groups. Language, intelligence, and specific emotions can be taken as important symbols for the distinction of the in-groups for the Whites and on the other hand, regard Blacks as the out-groups in such area. An illustration can also be found in the debating teams wherein the Wiley debate team is regarded as an out-group for an institution like Universities.

Sociological Analysis

Symbolic interactionist perspective influences many areas in the films. Specifically, it is important to note the micro-level interactions or the micro-sociology. In this perspective, an argument is found that people are the social products though however it merely states that people should be productive as well (Blumer, 1962). People act according to the deeper meaning and the interpretations come from social interaction.

In many sociological aspects, symbolic interactionism affected the areas of emotion, deviance, social movements, and sex. In the films, the point wherein the stance of Anthony and Peter as well as the Wiley debate team presented the symbolic interactionist perspective and showed the emotions behind what they fight for (Blumer, 1962). The main plots of the stories largely account for the social identification of the characters.

Forming the Wiley debate team is one significant symbol that can be found in the story. This displays the importance of defending the Black’s rights. It enabled the team to act toward the things according to the meanings that they give to their beliefs (Blumer, 1962). Hence, the interpretation of such things came from the social interaction that they had with their society as well as the character of the black robbers in the “Crash”.

Deviance can have different meanings according to the cultural norms based on the beliefs of people. A person may be deviant because that is what others view them as. Deviance can be illustrated in behaviors such as prejudging the Black Americans (Stark, 2007) in both films and thus violate cultural norms such as the formally enacted rules and other simple gestures which may mean a lot for a particular race.

In sociology, deviance includes many theories that account for an accurate trend that articulates in a social class to help understand the behavior of a society. Thus, the two films fall under the theory of symbolic interactionism, particularly the labeling theory. This theory implies that deviance is caused by the deviant person being stereotyped negatively. However, this theory applies to the characters of “Crash”. Anthony believes that the unfair treatment for Black Americans disrupts their own identity. They are not bad persons but as how people look at them, they respond to the label that people put on them and acquire the traits.

Institutional racism is the discrimination by governments, educational institutions, and other large organizations which has the power to affect the lives of many people (Freeman, 1970). This was largely depicted on the Wiley debate team and carjacking the car of a politician. There had been a collective failure of the organizations in the society through giving an unprofessional service to people because of their color, ethnic origin, and culture as well (Wohlgemuth, 2007). In addition, conflict theory broadly views deviance as the outcome of having discrepancies between the individuals and groups in society.

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The theoretical course added to labeling theory whereby it explains that those power and authority build norms and label deviant. The Wiley College in Texas represents just one of many institutions that provide learning for Black Americans (Rich, 2007). Social norms include prejudices, segregation, and discrimination among Blacks. It had been depicted by the way the Whites treated not only the Blacks but also other races. In “The Great Debaters”, there is a scene wherein the character of Young Farmer is forced to watch his father plead in front of a white man to avoid being shot.


As a whole, both films tried to present the norms and cultures of racism in different scenarios. It depicts that people should not be prejudging other races according to their background. It will just lead to the destruction of culture, and human possibility that the impact will be more likely mean a big gap that will poison humanity around the world. Thus, respect for each other should be given the most important highlight in meeting any stranger.


Blumer, H. (1962). “Society as Symbolic Interaction”, in Arnold M. Rose: Human Behavior and Social Process: An Interactionist Approach. Houghton-Mifflin. Reprinted in Blumer.

Freeman, J. (1970) “Institutional Discrimination”. Web.

Holden, S. (2007). “Leading the charge to Inspire Underdogs”, The New York Times. Web.

Rich, K. (2007). “The Great Debaters; A Movie Review”. Cinema Blend LCC. Web.

Stark, R. (2007); Sociology: Tenth Edition. Biological Theories of Deviance. Belmont, CA, (pp.182- 185).

Smedley, A. and Smedley, S.B. (2005) “Race as Biology if Fiction, Racism as a Social Problem is Real.” American Psychologist 60: 16-26.

Wohlgemuth, B. (2007). “Racism in the 21st century – How everybody can make a difference”, Saarbrücken, DE, VDM Verlag Dr. Müllere.K.

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"Analysing Films “The Great Debaters” and “Crash”." StudyCorgi, 20 Sept. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Analysing Films “The Great Debaters” and “Crash”." September 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Analysing Films “The Great Debaters” and “Crash”." September 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Analysing Films “The Great Debaters” and “Crash”." September 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Analysing Films “The Great Debaters” and “Crash”'. 20 September.

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