An Analysis Of L.A. Confidential

2677 words - 11 pages

Although not entirely uncritical in its portrayal of race, L.A. Confidential further
cements white as the “invisible norm” in film. The film makes a few points about police
racism and white—specifically Anglo—dominance in the LAPD, but the few critical
points the film makes are limited to the institutions portrayed in the film; the primacy of
whiteness throughout the film itself goes unquestioned. Furthermore, its stereotypical
representations of minorities sabotage any chance the film had to offer criticism of white
hegemony in either its historical setting, 1950s Los Angeles, the late ’90s world in which
it was made, or the universe of noir film. In this essay, I will show how L.A. Confidential
builds up whiteness as the ideal through its treatment of the three protagonists, the femme
fatale Lynn, blacks and Latinos, and whites belonging to minority ethnic groups.

When discussing race and ethnicity in L.A. Confidential, it is important to first
discuss the historical context of the film. Made in 1997, the film takes place in 1950s Los
Angeles, a time and place where police racism was extremely prevalent, as evidenced by
the 1951 “Bloody Christmas” incident dramatized in the film. On “Bloody Christmas,”
seven young prisoners, five of whom were Mexican, were savagely beaten by some fifty
(mostly drunk) Los Angeles police officers in response to false rumors of injuries
sustained by other officers at the hands of the youths. (Escobar, 171.) The incident was
indicative of widespread racism within the all-white police force and is just one of a
number of historical incidents that have caused tension between the LAPD and minority
communities. Although it takes place in the time of “Bloody Christmas,” it is important
that the film be seen within the context of the time it was made, 1997. This places the
film six years after the infamous Rodney King incident and directly in the time period of

the Rampart Scandal, when the LAPD’s anti-gang unit was found to be massively
corrupt, and only one year after one of the most famous incidents from that scandal, the
1996 shooting and subsequent framing of Javier Ovando by LAPD officers (this finds a
rough parallel in the film when Bud White shoots a suspect and then plants a gun on
him.) Could the film, with its portrayal of an endemically racist LAPD subjugating
minorities, actually be seen as a progressive critique of institutional police racism in the
1990s? Could L.A. Confidential be drawing a parallel between race relations in the early
1950s and the time in which it was made? This interpretation could be plausible at first
glance based on the plot alone, but it is unviable because of the film’s strongly negative
representation of blacks and Latinos. Instead, L.A. Confidential treats minorities of all
kinds as stereotypes and marginalizes them, places them in the role of criminals, and,
specifically with blacks, represents them in a...

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