Creating Harmony among Contrasting Hues: A Reflection upon the Movie The Color of Fear
Since time immemorial, issues about color and race had been consistently at the top of the list among the most problematic and complicated topics under social studies. The idea of racism never fails to send various connotations that are often related to violence, abuse, minority and privileges. Under this specific subject matter, various people were not able to control themselves in expressing how they feel regarding the matter. Some use the power of music, words, and even visual arts to depict their reactions, and sometimes protests against racial discrimination. One of the people who opted to articulate his opinion about racism was Lee Mun Wah. In his film entitled “The Color of Fear” (1994), Mun Wah conveyed through sophisticated direction the perception, understanding, and experiences of several men with background on racism. Based on the meanings implicitly said in the movie, it could be predicted that racism would continually exist, unless people would wholeheartedly allow
and accept changes.
The basic situation in the film “The Color of Fear” composed of an intellectual dialogue between eight men Mun Wah has invited to spend their weekend at a cottage. The dialogue focused primarily on the topic racism. However, the other half of the film specifically tackled about inter-ethnic racism. The involved men were all American citizens but with Asian, European, Latin, and African roots: David Lee, Yutaka Matsumato, Victor Lewis, Roberto Alamanzán, Loren Moye, Gordon Clay, Hugh Vasquez, David Christensen.
During the first part of the film, racism was primarily tackled. At this early point, various oppositions have arisen. David Lee and Yutaka Matsumato, for example, apparently showed their negative perception about African-Americans—lazy, dumb, and dangerous—due to the perception they have gotten from the White Americans. On one hand, Victor Lewis, an African- American, pointed the blame to the White Americans on why Asian Americans pay such low observations to them. Roberto Almazan, a Mexican- American, however, believes in the notion that a person with a lighter skin resembles more an American person. Victor agreed with him saying that sometimes he feels more American because of his lighter complexion as compared to other Blacks.
Being a citizen of America, I could not take away myself from the present conditions among races. I, myself, belong to a particular race of my own. In any way or another, I am being affected by these conflicts, whose impact always branch out into two tracks: positive or negative and direct or indirect.
Getting involved with issues regarding racism is inevitable. In a country where racism is being highly observed, one could not easily pretend of not getting involved because apparently, everyone has his own roots. However, it should be strictly noted that racism has a vast and complex meaning. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, racism is the notion that race is responsible for all the differences between people’s ability or qualities. In addition, racism believes that some races are superior to other races. It is actually a form of prejudice, which could be defined as the unreasonable rejection of people based on gender, socio-economic status, or race. When prejudice has been acted out, it is then now a form of discrimination. (Dovidio 1986).
I would define myself as a non-racist person, but somehow in real life I do discriminate people subconsciously. I am an international student from Hong Kong, being a minority in America. Right now, if I would to evaluate myself, I could say that my level of
being a racist is six (0-10 scale, 10 being most critic). Although I am trying not to discriminate other races, I believe that I have not completely eradicated my prejudices on other races. More importantly, I believe that being a “somehow racist” is a form of defense from other races. If I totally open myself for them, I might be the one who would be victimized.
The impact of racism has also become enormous in my life. On a scale of 0-10, with 0 being very little, I could say that racism got a level 5 impact to my life. Sometimes I feel being discriminated, but at the same time I do discriminate people in different ways. I am always in a conflict that whether it is right to be racist.
During the film, the characters were able to imprint their own impressions to the viewers. Lee Mun Wah, who was the first among them to speak, appears to be sensitive of the situation. He is also very acknowledging and open about his roots. David Lee, at first, gives an impression of forgetting his roots, saying that he is an all-American man. However, he eventually explains that he just wants not to be sorted out everytime he reveals he has a Chinese blood. Hugh Vasquez seems to have experienced many things about racism. Victor Lewis is so proud of who he is. Yutaka, on one hand, appears to be a little timid and reserved, while Gordon Clay shows honesty by saying that he is a racist, and would like to change it. Roberto Almazan, being the oldest of all, seems to be very knowledgeable about the history of his people. The second appearance of Lee Mun Wah suggests his willingness and openness to serve as a tool for change. Meanwhile, David Christensen exudes so much confidence when he said “I am an American”. Finally, Loren Moye expresses how proud he is of his roots, saying that he wants to be identified as an African.
Each of the characters had their chance to express their opinions and feelings regarding the issue. Some of their notable passages were critically analyzed, just like the following:
a) `…you’re not naming it…`- (Victor, 5). It is true that White experience seems to be equated with the human experience. It makes the White Americans the standard human being. b) `some men stand on other men`- (Victor, 5). I think Victor is just telling the truth. This is happening even not on the American context. It is universal truth. Some people could really stand on other people simply because they have the power.
c) `your fears are `unfounded`- (David C., 0). The fears are unfounded because the two Latinos are already frightened to an event that has not happened yet. However, the fear is justifiable because it was based on the experiences of their relatives and own people. d) we always deal with you…`- (Victor, 5). The situation turns to be like this simply because America is not their country. Their ancestors did not come from this country. Probably it is the reason why Victor and others always feel that they are the one who always deal with the Americans.
e) `when I pass a Mission…`- (Hugh Vasquez, -5). History is indeed important. But people should not dwell on the past. Let history be our teacher. If something negative was told about a certain race, it should try to turn that into a positive outlook today. Probably for Hugh it is tiring, but that is the way people should accept it.
f) `why do you people have such a problem with…`-(David C., 5). I think one can never really be at two places during the same time. It only gives conflict. Half- Americans should just learn how to balance the two. Be an American without neglecting one’s roots, or vice versa.
g) `there is no American ethnicity`- (Victor, 0). I still think there is an American ethnicity. But probably, that was before America has become a large empire accommodating various civilizations. Each of these civilizations has their own ethnicity. What is important today is to find one universal American ethnicity wherein everyone could connect and relate.
h) `when I pass through the spikes are pointing right up at me…` (Victor, -5). Victor seems to be too pessimistic with his statement here. It appears that he is very much helpless and could not do anything to change the direction of the spikes. I think he just needs to be more optimistic.
i) `…I cant wait to go home and become a black man again…` (Loren, 5). He must be saying that based on his own perception. I think it is true because all of us, at the end of the day, just want to return from where we came from. No matter how far we have reached, at the end of the day, we just want to feel security and belongingness.
j) `the world is open to you…`- (David C., 5) I agree with him. Sometimes Black Americans just feel that they are not welcome. Probably because that is what they are seeing and experiencing. However, if we would observe, numerous Black Americans are already leading in their fields, proving that there is a room and a space for them in America.
k) `you block your own progress…` (Gordon- 0). I personally believe in the power of thinking. I believe that whatever it is that a person thinks most of the time will attract that specific thing to happen. If Black Americans always think about Whites and racism, that thinking will surely show and affect their actions. However, if it is what Black Americans are really experiencing, then we could not blame them to think that way.
Based on this discussion, it was obvious that power comes from the more privileged race—the White Americans. Apparently, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Mexican Americans build all of the aforementioned perceptions of each other’s race using the White supremacy as foundation. This foundation of ideologies continues to be the great power for
White Americans. As a result, other races existing inside White societies are never given the chance to show who they really are—their culture, their insights, their own psychology. The sad part is when these races are forced to alter themselves in order to fit into the White mentality, which in reality is very much different and opposed with theirs.
Whether it is racism or inter-ethnic racism, the privileged group is always the White Americans. As Victor has described, both situations involve pushing up and pushing down of races. In racism, the Whites or the dominant group is being pushed upward while the subordinate group is being pushed down. Although inter-ethnic racism involves no dominant and subordinate groups, it could still be considered as racism as it is taking place in a White society. The minority groups, nonetheless, are also being pushed down.
If the film would be put in a larger context and during this present condition, perhaps misconceptions about African Americans would be lessen with the designation of Barack Obama as the incumbent US President. Perhaps, the current situation may provide a brighter outlook for other minority groups.
Generally, the issue on racism has gathered too much attention. The issue is now being seen and discussed in every form of media—visual arts, literature, and even movies. Many points have already been raised. It seems that people know how to answer the problem and yet the problem remains there for decades. What America needs now are not dialogues or forums discussing repeatedly the same old topics and questions. What the country needs, and probably the world itself, is action—an action that is based on the willingness to change.
The Color of Fear. Dir. Lee Mun Wah. Perfs. David Lee, Victor Lewis, Gordon Clay. DVD. Stir Fry Productions, 1994.
Dovidio, John F. Prejudice, Discrimination, and Racism. USA: Academic Press, 1986