I think my personal opinions may have snuck into another homework assignment. Oops.
Crash (2004), Paul Haggis
Shaniqua Johnson enters her office building as if revealed from behind a white curtain. We see a low-angle on a receptionist. Shaniqua Johnson interrupts her while she’s on the phone to ask “Who do I have?” like a spider asking what’s been snagged in her web. That, plus the fact that the receptionist is a young, white female indicates that Shaniqua Johnson holds “power” in her job at the HMO.
As the receptionist says “You have a walk-in with Mr. Ryan” the camera pans swiftly from the receptionist’s pointing hand to Shaniqua Johnson’s face as she realizes the man who racially insulted her on the telephone is now in her office.
Cut to Mr. Ryan. The police officer is in civilian clothing, and seems far more vulnerable now than when we saw him earlier in the film, sexually assaulting a woman while on duty because… uh… because he’s a racist and um… stuff. But, he is here to advocate for his dying father, and is waiting like a little boy outside the principal’s office, his head bowed, fiddling with his hands nervously.
Cut back to the close-up of Shaniqua Johnson’s now-delighted, resolute face as she gets ready to enjoy some of that power she seems to have.
Mr. Officer Ryan enters Shaniqua Johnson’s office, sandwiched awkwardly in the shot between a small lamp on a shelf in the background and a large lamp in the foreground on Shaniqua Johnson’s desk.
Cut to a mid-close up of Shaniqua Johnson behind her desk. Through the window behind her a utility-pole is in view. Electricity is where the power comes from, right? What good is a lamp without electricity, one might ponder? We now see that Shaniqua Johnson’s got all the juice.
On Shaniqua Johnson’s lapel, we see a silver snowflake pin, exactly the size and shape of a police badge. This tells us that Shaniqua Johnson is now the sheriff.
Mr. Officer Ryan mentions his father’s pain and Shaniqua Johnson reluctantly offers weak condolence, plus a frown.
Mr. Officer Ryan continues to describe his father’s difficulty as if he never insulted Shaniqua Johnson before, and Shaniqua Johnson filters everything he says through her insulted-ness, manifesting in a lack of motivation to help Mr. Officer Ryan and his father. She offers him solutions that she knows he cannot afford and closes her folder, telling him she can’t help him, but clearly indicating that she isn’t sorry.
At this point, an increasingly upset Mr. Officer Ryan reveals the only backstory told about any character in the film. In the same way a corrupt police officer might racially-profile you, finger-bang your lady and then tell you he’s doing you a favor by letting you go, Mr. Officer Ryan attempts to emotionally blackmail Shaniqua Johnson by first accusing her of being a token black woman and then offering her the opportunity to “rise above it” and treat his father like a person. By the end of his story, we are to understand that his racism is based in his father’s curtailed janitorial career due to affirmative action.
Now there’s a security guard hovering in the foreground, oppressively framing one side of the shot solid black. Shaniqua Johnson seems genuinely touched by his story, and makes it clear that he is correct - it would be simple and easy for her to grant Mr. Officer Ryan’s request, but because he made one off-handed comment during a clearly high-stress moment on the telephone, she chooses not to ease the suffering of his father. Because, she has all the power and she says no.
Remember, when they had their phone conversation, Mr. Officer Ryan wanted to speak to Shaniqua Johnson’s supervisor. Shaniqua Johnson said that she IS her supervisor. She’s not a single employee at an HMO with her own economic vulnerability, at the mercy of dozens of coordinated insurance companies, countless policy makers, managers and vice-presidents, board members, lobbyists, politicians, capitalism itself, etc.
In Crash’s universe, one woman in one office in Los Angeles gets to decide who lives and who dies. We all know that this is exactly how it works, so we can conclude: if everyone was just a little more nice and a little less racist, healthcare for everyone!
Sucks to be you, Mr. Officer Ryan’s dad!