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"The Color of Fear" Film: Critical Theories and Personal Reactions

I am an online writer with a degree in journalism who writes on a wide range of topics.

The film "The Color of Fear" is a provocative look at issues of race.

The film "The Color of Fear" is a provocative look at issues of race.

The Color of Fear, by Lee Mun Wah

For anyone who hasn't seen Lee Mun Wah's film The Color of Fear, I would recommend it. It's a truly eye-opening experience.

The film depicts eight men of various ethnicities discussing issues of race. They all come from different backgrounds, which makes their discussion quite interesting—if at times very heated.

Critical Race Model

One primary theoretical model that applies to The Color of Fear is the critical race model. In many parts of the film, the minority individuals rejected David Christensen’s claims and ideas that all people are the same and should be treated as such. For instance, Chinese-American David Lee expressed that he feels insulted when White people consider him to be an American just like they are.

The critical race model suggests that colorblindness and neutrality are invalid and that various multicultural standpoints allow for different experiences and knowledge that make people different. This is what David Lee and the other minorities said in the film; people may be equal, but they are not the same. Additionally, the film as a whole was a step toward eliminating racial oppression, which is what the critical race model worked toward as well.

Complicity Theory

The complicity theory also applies, as the film revolves around overgeneralizations based on race. Another example is when David Lee and Yutaka brought up their anxieties concerning contact with African Americans as a result of viewing and hearing media sources and even school; Yutaka admitted that he felt anxious at a bus stop with African Americans until he thought about his fear and how irrational it was. The complicity theory is important in order to help people avoid such essentialism, which I think is part of the point of creating and showing the film.

Coherence Model

The film also shows a partial transition from complicity to coherence, as interactions went from calm discussion to heated outbursts to progressive understanding. It seemed at first that the eight individuals were so different that coherence could not be possible; White David wanted life to be fair, and throughout his life couldn’t see how “progress” could be made with such thoughts and frustrations as those expressed by the minority individuals in the film. However, the discussion deepened and words grew louder, with Victor demanding an end to the complicity and imploring David and other “outsiders” to try to understand what he and other Black men have to go through.

Personal Reactions

Personally, I felt a little uncomfortable in many parts of the movie because I initially wasn’t able to understand the tension displayed by Victor and other individuals. I was like David Christensen in that I thought everyone should be treated fairly and similarly; the words that came out of his mouth didn’t sound virulent or wrong to me at all.

Therefore, I was surprised by the anger and frustration displayed by many of the minorities in the film, most likely because I was raised like a White person by White parents in a fairly White community in Sonoma County, California, and so my cultural standpoint is probably the most similar to David’s. According to co-cultural theory, people learn, from their experiences in being a part of a certain racial or ethnic group to communicate in a certain fashion because of inherent or apparent advantages and disadvantages they associate with certain styles and strategies. The tense communication in many parts of the film seemed to go against what I had learned about effective and healthy communication with and about other races, and so I was unsure as to what the outcome could be as a result; this made me very anxious.

However, in retrospect, I see that such tension is honest and necessary, especially through the complicity theory model that advocates coherence rather than complicity. Victor’s passionate outbursts signaled to me the end of complicity, or at least his tolerance of it, and according to the complicity theory, this is a healthy step toward “harmonic discourse” and potentially the elimination of racism and other forms of oppression.

I was very affected by David Christensen’s “colorblind” statements because I think they are shared by many Americans who try to get along with all people. He seemed confused by the anger that his “why can’t we all just get along” mindset seemed to engender. In a way, my thoughts were similar; to most who are part of a macroculture, it probably doesn’t seem negative to see everyone as the same, because many of the people they know are the same, and as they have grown up with many of the same people, their lifestyle seems the best.

The first time I watched the film, my class discussed the content, but I feel that watching it this time has helped me understand myself even more. I understand more about my background and the way it has influenced how I think about culture, race, and people in general today. I have also changed the way I think and talk about ethnicity and culture; I no longer have the colorblind mentality, which has allowed me to appreciate the differences between others even more, rather than avoid or loathe them. Critical race theory suggests that color blindness and neutrality are negative, and I never understood this before, but like the theory states, racism is “an integral part of the United States,” and in order to eliminate racial oppression and work toward equality, people need to recognize differences in race and ethnicity rather than try to avoid conflict or awkward moments.

It was beneficial to hear comments from the perspectives of other races, and in a way it was probably best that the format was consistent and that all of the participants were male, thus making it easier to discuss race and ethnicity without the complications that talking about gender and sex could bring to the conversation.

Further Reading

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do you believe that because someone is born with little melatonin or a lot of melatonin that both human beings should be treated differently , one or the other? I voted for Obama for President becuase I thought we would be brought together as brothers and sisters but it never happened.

Answer: I believe people should be treated equally no matter the color of their skin.