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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 the 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 communication 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.


glassvisage (author) from Northern California on March 12, 2012:

Thank you all for your very insightful comments and for reading this page. I appreciate you stopping by!

Javella on March 09, 2012:

It's a great film! Yes, there is only one race, however segments of the race are exposed to institutional racism, which is a function of our capitalistic approach to life. It is through respect and empathy that true understanding can be reached and I think this film meets that goal.

francisid on April 08, 2011:

racial issues has always besieged us from time immemorial..the more colored you are,the lesser your rights are.this has always been the case, and i fear,it would be the case as long as we don't accept the fact that it's not what nature dictates.the whites are never on top of the food chain;as the blacks are never always the sacrificial lambs.

when will we ever acknowledge the fact that nobody is above us,nor anybody is below us?

Lady on March 15, 2011:


I think the melting pot is one of the biggest least visible ideas that actually marginalizes people of color the most!!

Does a typical white person need to know much about black, asian, native american, or hispanic culture? No.

Do they feel uncomfortable when they go to a black club? Probably.

In comparison, most people of color if they want to move up the social ladder, NEED to know about white culture, NEED to appear comfortable in primarily white restuarants, bars, boardrooms, clases.

The melting pot idea suggests "equality" but it really means "equality if you can merge with dominant white culture"

As far, as "everyone born here is an American" - its great that you, as a white person, believes that. BUT the messages people of color get, generally from white people (maybe not you), is that they have to PROVE that they are American, which I am sure you have never experienced.

You have the privilege of never having anyone question whether you are American or not - just because of your white skin.

An American muslim, BORN IN the US, will need to constantly PROVE that they aren't terrorists and are AMERICANS (e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkZhAtNfcBE). A person of hispanic ethnicity is more likely to need to PROVE that he or she is NOT an illegal immigrant (Think arizona's laws).

I hope you and other white individuals who are open enough to believe that "those born here are Americans" are also brave enough to challenge white individuals who may suggest otherwise.

Because, as a white person, you have that privilege to choose to not challenge these individuals because what they say DOES not (many think) affect their lives or threaten their identity as americans.

DeAndre on December 16, 2010:

White boy didn't have a chance. Ha haaaaaaaa. Look, don't go blaming shay whitey. Yeah white boys got da hook up but damn, not all are racist. I know some white boys from the ghetto. Are they oppressing me? Really? This is about rich against the poor. Actually, it's about racisit against non-racist. Don't matter what color you are if you are grouping an entire race you are a racist.

Tyrell on December 15, 2010:

Good messege but seems scripted and edited.

Dan on October 19, 2010:

I saw this in my class, but what they are talking about I already knew. People of color are still suffering from what was done in the past and still today. Most white americans have what they have off of black labor that were in chains. Look at america. White america feel or some of them think they are right in what they do and say and that all other races don't matter to them. At your job or whereever you go, whatever you say is wrong no matter what and if i'm lying then why is it that a black man that has offer to put bills in place, that his counter part said from day one they would not support him, even if he saw that a bill of theirs could help they still said no. Like the color of fear, the republican party has scared white american against the Black President and has not once voted for anything that would help middle and poor americans. They have no plan unless its to help their friends or the rich or the Banks, etc... They have never put their hand out and said we are here to help but they did say we will do everything to see you fail. The mess we are in is because the republican party that held the house and senate for over 12 or more years, People think this problem just started and it will be a quick fix. you can't fix anything when one party will vote against everything, education unemployment, health care which a lot of people that lost their jobs don't have that or their homes yet President Obama is trying to help us but yet you are being scared to not stand behind him. Ask yourself this, what has the republican party done since he has been in office??? Nothing but vote against everything. Nothing can be done if they vote against things that will help the people and not the rich. The rich are getting rich off of us yet a lot of you still support the main people that are in their pockets, THE REPUBLICAN PARTY,

sophia on September 15, 2010:

I saw this film today in my multicultural education class. I found it very interesting. Many of the points made by Victor, I share with him. The fact is, white people came to North America and stole everything they own. They constantly complain about the blacks how uneducated and violent they are but why are they like that? For centuries, whites prohibited blacks from being educated and with that, they also beat the crap out of blacks on a daily basis. How can blacks NOT be violent? How can they not be hostile and angry? Even though this was years ago, blacks in the face of whites are still close to nothing and will always be that way.

terced ojos from terced_ojos@yahoo.com on May 03, 2010:

beem, beem, beem, beem...The answers are out there.

I think everyone should just deny their racial heritage in favor of white heritage and everything will be just fine.

If we all just "act white"; "bleach our skin", "get folds on our eyelids.", "only speak english.", "be christian.", "drive American made cars." "eat meat loaf every tuesday."..these are just a few of my suggestions as to how we can all get along.

Oh yeah..."eat tater totts for breakfast."..that's important...



Great Hub...definitely going to check out the film.

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on January 24, 2010:

JustMe, I think that's a fair statemetn. I agree that you can be an American regardless of your race. Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you enjoyed the film!

JustMe on January 21, 2010:

I watch the video today in my Political Science class. I thought that it was a very good piece of work, not as a film, but as an acomplishment among individuals of color. I did have several problems with it although I agreed for the most part. If my issues are misplaced, then perhaps someone can educate me on the subject.

1.) I am an American. Also, I am white. I am not, however, standing on "red ground" or "black groud" or anything like that. And as far as I am concered, color doesn't matter in wether or not you are an American. If you were born in America, then you are American. I am a native, because I was born here. I have NEVER pictured the word American to be associated with the word white as as far as I can remember there have been races of everykind in America which is one of the reasons it is so unique. We are the melting pot. Therefor, when they discuss being insulted by being called American, I find that utterly ridiculous. I can understand their reasoning behind the feelings, however, it is their right as they ARE American and should therefor not be insulted to be called such.

Dilip Chandra from India on December 06, 2009:


tonyhubb on November 07, 2009:

Interesting movie. Thanks for sharing!

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on October 17, 2009:

jxb, your military perspective is so valuable in this area. Thank you for sharing your experience!

James Brown from United States of America on October 16, 2009:

When I was a Drill Instructor I had my privates watch the film as part of our EEO classes. Some got it while others thought it was a waste of time because they did not see themselves as part of the problem. By the end of the class this group realized that racism is not always an action, it includes a thought as well - and it's the thought which becomes the action - and the action becomes the problem.

I believe that every individual or group has the right to think what they want to think about other individuals or groups. But when that thought becomes an action they cross the lines of decency and respect and into the area of conflict. The other point I made was the fact that the melting pot theory from the 60's - late 70's was very damaging because the pot always took the tone of the prominent color which in the case of America was white - and everyone became, or was forced to become a tone of white - adopting the while culture and denying their own. Unlike the civilian population success in the military demanded a recognition of differences and anyone who gives up their differences for acceptance was giving up the very thing that made them unique and the culture experience required for success in certain skill areas or environments.

Great hub and a powerful movie. Thanks for sharing.

glassvisage (author) from Northern California on October 06, 2009:

Thank you for your comments. Theleftflank, thanks for your input, and interesting connection with capitalism, which wasn't mentioned in the film. Money-grubbing can have a huge amount to do with racism, I think, and I don't think that whites are evil, too.

theleftflank on October 02, 2009:

Why overcomplicated the issue with nice sounding rhetoric or convoluted verbiage? The color of, excuse me...FEAR!? PLEEEEEASE! The very topic itself is formulated to generate an erratic response; just a couple of Ohhhhs , Ahhhhs, a few violent outburst here and there. It’s nothing more, I assure you. When it’s all said and done, not a single thing will change save people clinging ever more passionately to their misconceived notions of each other.

Really, it's quite easy to comprehend. There is such a thing called 'white privilege' which undoubtedly continues to give a certain ethnic group a sort of automatic credibility - if you will. Hence, they can do no wrong. And in a Capitalist society where everything has essentially been turned into a commodity, being white or as close to it as humanly possible is a big plus - but only because the elite is white. So they set the standard! What's that popular refrain: If you can't beat'em, Join'em! Let's face it, we all loved Rocky but in the real world, nobody wants to be in the camp of the underdog. Friction, discord, thievery, war are inevitable byproducts of capitalism, and so is racism because in order to get ahead you are compelled to take every advantage wherever you can find it. The corporate world, however, gives it another name: Competition, an ingenious euphemism to be sure. Of course, Power concedes nothing without defeat. So ultimately, whites today cannot be blamed anymore for their complicit roles in perpetuating such an exploitative system anymore than their forefathers. It’s the nature of the beast! Like us, they are hapless victims of circumstance. But we can change that reality…we actually don’t have much of a choice now!

The insatiable appetite of Capitalism has already gone after all the easy prey in foreign lands, its back home to gorge on its own helpless and unsuspecting populations. This time, being white won’t save you it can only ward off the inevitable a bit longer than those far beneath…like the poor folk of the doomed Titanic (1912) who had been locked in their quarters in the ship’s lower decks so that the rich might flee to safety unencumbered.

Too many instantly reject any solution coming from the left because of the unwarranted fears of someone taking your property and giving it to presumably lazy dark people who are ingrates. They cite various histories of Russia, Germany, China, and Italy as evidence failed left ideology but anyone who can read will see that neither of these revolutions was for the benefit of laborers, because laborers did not continue leading them or never led them. The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 was an attempt of students and eventually laborers to reassert some authority and force the state to act more favorably to those less-privileged. They were cut down like trees so we see that having mere numbers doesn’t necessarily win wars. Its communism but its more fascism, and certainly not socialism! Obama is not socialist! Like a captured regulator, he’s in the hands of the bank. Where I’m from, we call him a house-n@#ga! Hell, I never voted for him.

Realize this, just as an unrestrained aggressive form of Capitalism - called Neoliberalism - can grossly distort the hopes of a free market system, which isn’t really free so too can, socialism be mired in baseless accusations by people who’ve never once given it more than one glance. So the fear of color is a side show with horrible consequences if you pay too much attention to it. Whites are not evil; I think they want the same things everyone else wants…to live and let live. It’s the functionality of this system. For even if we somehow restored capitalism to what we had prior to this crisis, our offspring would be fighting these very same wars a hundred years from now. Capitalism has only one motive…profit. Think on it.

Jeromeo from Little Rock on August 12, 2009:


glassvisage (author) from Northern California on June 03, 2009:

Thanks for your comments! That study is crazy, newsworthy! It's so weird how things like that can be almost predictable.

newsworthy on June 01, 2009:

Theory is relevant for ideas but time is what changed racisim where I live. 

The progression you described in this movie: partial transition from complicity to coherence, as interactions went from calm discussion to heated outbursts to progressive understanding, seem almost identical to a study of 100undergraduates at University of Georgia last year where researchers identified these traits with self esteem.

Research published in the Journal Of Personality, June 2008-vol 76 found that when a person's beliefs and values were threatened, the individual became defensive and possibly abusive - described as the low self-esteem and fragile high self-esteem types. Other research showed that people with secure high self-esteem accepted themselves better and they didn't make excuses when defending themselves or when discussing the past.

Great review. I too would be interested in watching the film to see the point of fear. Although undergradutes are most likely younger then the men pictured above, you would think at that age, they would accept who they are and get on with life.

Where is the happiness?

Janies World from Brooklyn, New York on May 29, 2009:

interesting.. definitely will check it out.

Sarah on May 13, 2009:

This movie sounds very interesting.

Tim Valentine on April 19, 2009:

Excellent Post.

I've written on various aspects of race on my blog in hopes to offer an understanding and a way to reconciliation.

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on April 16, 2009:

Well written review of the movie.

Merle Ann Johnson from NW in the land of the Free on February 23, 2009:

yes was a great review...even makes me want to see it and I am not a great movie fan...Thanks...G-Ma :O) Hugs & Peace

jswim77 from West Lafayette, IN on February 23, 2009:

God made us all one in His eyes. No matter what collar or race we are.

C.S.Alexis from NW Indiana on February 23, 2009:

This looks to be one I will have to seek out and watch. Thanks for a great review!

Tiffany Latte on February 23, 2009:

I have not seen the film but will make a point to see it. From the trailer, the pain is disturbing, but I agree the cure is in the pain, but pain is so uncomfortable, isn't it.

Anna Marie Bowman from Florida on February 22, 2009:

Interesting. I have not seen the movie, but it does seem interesting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 22, 2009:

This sounds like an interesting film. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Vernon Bell from Houston, Texas on February 22, 2009:

Very Deep!

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