Approximately 60 people huddled inside Austin Boulevard Christian Church Saturday night to watch a special screening of the Oscar-nominated film Crash.

A cross-section of people came out to watch the acclaimed film that chronicles racism through the interactions and crossed paths of several ethnic characters during one Los Angeles day.

The group discussed the film afterward. A number of people who showed up at the church, located at 634 N. Austin Blvd., had to be turned away. Those who managed to stay talked for more than an hour about the film.

The Austin church hosts monthly movie nights and discussions, and picked Crash for Black History Month.

The conversation was candid as the predominantly black and white group shared their thoughts.

“This is really what I needed after I first saw the movie,” said Oak Park resident Douglas Wyman, who along with his wife, Barbara, saw the movie last year at the Lake Theatre when it first came out. “We went out and stopped at a place for a cup of coffee and talked about it. But the depth that we could get to was nowhere near what we had here tonight.”

Ernest Wiley came all the way from Bellwood after hearing about the screening from a friend who lives in Oak Park.

“It’s very good to have this dialogue,” said Wiley, who saw the film for the first time Saturday. “But only if you specially say we’re going to have a dialogue. Otherwise, you’re going to just walk out of the movie and go home. But to have this kind of dialogue afterwards, I think, will have a more long-lasting impact.”

That, in fact, was the purpose of this screening, said Loretta Ragsdell, who organized the showing.

Crash boasts an all-star cast, including Best Supporting Actor nominee Matt Dillon, who plays a white racist cop who sexually assaults Thandie Newton’s character while her husband, played by Terrance Howard, helplessly looks on.

That and other depictions in the film focused on attitudes that many in attendance Saturday agreed were based on misunderstandings, stereotypes, and sometimes misplaced anger. The film’s blunt look at racism in America had a sobering effect on attendees and the discussion, Ragsdell noted.

“I think the people were very cautious,” she said, in particular those who were white. “We didn’t have the time to develop the trust for them to really be honest as I think they will be at another time. This is the first opportunity and no one person wanted to jump out there.

“One thing I do know,” she added. “All of the people who came out cared enough to come, and I think they’re all invested in moving beyond racism. No one came to beat up on anybody.”

The church’s pastor, Rev. Dwight Bailey, who had seen the film two previous times, noted that trust has to be built up on both sides. He said the film was a stunning snapshot?#34;though an unpleasant one?#34;about our society.

“If we can get people who are willing to first admit that racism does exist in America and even in our hearts, and that we have a responsibly to address it, we can break it down. But it’s going to take folks working together to do that.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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