Commentary: No, 'Grand Canyon' isn't better than 'Crash.' In fact, it owes Los Angeles an apology

Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Mack’s teen son Roberto (Jeremy Sisto), named after baseball legend Roberto Clemente, later tells his father, “Lucky you got out with your life. It could have been curtains for you.” In the vast kitchen of his Brentwood home, Mack tells wife Claire (McDonnell), “The night when I thought those boys were going to kill me, I realized I f— hate immigration law.” (Mack is never shown doing any legal work.)

Inglewood officials in 1992 were infuriated by the depiction of their city as a crime-ridden ghetto, calling it an “assassination of an entire municipality’s character” and “a dangerous display of social irresponsibility.” They threatened to ban film production in the city unless the producers apologized.

That apology never came.

The movie was just getting started. Davis (Martin), a movie producer specializing in violent fare, works on his latest film where a hoodlum named Skin (Henry Kingi, co-founder of the Black Stuntmen’s Assn.) and his white accomplice shoot up a bus filled with riders. Later, Davis is shot and seriously wounded by a Latino robber.

Simon’s young nephew Otis (Patrick Malone) refuses to give up the outlaw life despite his uncle’s warning: “Without my set, I’m nothing. They care about me, man.” After Roberto meets the parents of the blond girl he fell in love with at camp, he tells his mother, “I think they were relieved I wasn’t Puerto Rican.”

The contrast between white and Black communities is sharply drawn. In Brentwood, neighbors worry about their chandeliers falling after an earthquake. But in Inglewood, a woman is shown scrubbing a huge puddle of blood off the sidewalk.

As payback for Simon’s rescue, Mack maneuvers to help his sister, single mother Deborah (Tina Lifford), and her family move from their gang-infested neighborhood into a safer — and whiter — neighborhood in Canoga Park. He also sets Simon up with Jane (Alfre Woodard), a secretary he barely knows. Although the gestures are intended to be noble, they are actually patronizing, the white savior rushing in to rescue the helpless Black victims.

Kasdan admitted in a 1991 Los Angeles Times interview that the screenplay was inspired by fear of the growing encroachment of urban growth and communities of color on whites.

“Cities are supposed to be hubs of civilization, not war zones,” he said. “In Los Angeles, we had the fantasy that we could run to our neighborhoods and hide, but that illusion has been dispelled. One wrong turn plants you in enemy territory. There is no safe place anymore, no sense of security. ‘Grand Canyon’ is about the fact that we’re all interconnected. If people at the bottom suffer, we all do. The world becomes an unlivable place.”


A 1992 Washington Post profile of the Kasdans said the couple wrote “Grand Canyon” as a way to explore “race and fear in America in a way that would engage an audience without striking any poses or reaching any conclusions.”

“The Kasdans had little firsthand experience with life in predominantly Black and Hispanic south-central Los Angeles, a key location in the film,” the article said. “They wrote from what Meg Kasdan called ‘our perception and our belief that people share concerns, regardless of their race,’ but they also found a minister working in the crime-ridden area who introduced them to some gang members.”

“This film was written from my gut,” Lawrence Kasdan said in a featurette included on the DVD of the film. “It’s about my own surprise at the way the world is, as opposed to the way I thought it should be.”

Those comments expose the film’s true — and dangerous — message. In seeking to provoke more interest in “Grand Canyon” decades after its release, the Kasdans demonstrate their lack of interest in gaining genuine insight or understanding of the complexities of race relations in America. They still believe in the same vision of a Los Angeles plagued by crime and economic despair, projected from within the high walls of their artistic suburban fortress.

In The Times’ story on the film, “Grand Canyon’s” Black performers are supportive of the film. Glover and Woodard praise it as a work of honesty and Kasdan for allowing them to help form their characters. Said Lifford: “The movie absolutely captures and represents a known reality.”

Kasdan said he doubts that he, a white man, would be allowed to make a movie like “Grand Canyon” in 2021.

I’m thankful he got one thing right. But it’s not too late for that apology.


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