"Black or White"
Release Date: Jan. 30, 2015
Running Time: 121 minutes
Writer/director Mike Binder may believe that his legal drama Black or White offers a glimpse of an America that will vote a black man into the White House but still treats minorities with fear and suspicion. Nothing, though, could be further from the truth. Yes, Black or White does focus on the courtroom tug of war between a white man (Kevin Costner) and a black woman (Octavia Spencer) over their biracial granddaughter. While Binder touches upon the issue of racial identity, he does so in such tentative fashion that race barely becomes a factor in the fight for Eloise Anderson (the adorable Jillian Estell) between Costner’s high-powered attorney Elliot Anderson and Spencer’s realtor Rowena Jeffers. With the exception of one single moment, when the “N” word is employed for purely inflammatory reasons, Black or White never convinces us that there’s any underlining racial tension between the characters played by the crotchety Costner and the assertive Spencer, even when outside forces bring race into the proceedings. Elliot isn’t racist—he just harbors resentment toward Rowena’s wayward addict son Reggie (André Holland), who abandoned Elliot’s daughter after he got her pregnant. She died from complications of childbirth, leaving Elliot and his wife to raise Eloise. When Elliot’s wife dies in a car crash, Rowena pushes Reggie to sue for custody. She fears Elliot cannot raise Eloise on his own because of his work commitments and heavy drinking. Not that Reggie’s “Father of the Year” material, either. He’s irresponsible and ill prepared to raise a child, although you can read between the lines: it’s Rowena who plans to care of Estell. Binder makes the legitimate argument in Black or White that it’s important for Eloise to learn about her mixed-race heritage, and that this can only be accomplished if she interacts with both sides of her family. Elliot isn’t against this—he just doesn’t want to be around Rowena’s family because they serve as a constant reminder of the untimely death of his daughter. He can also afford to keep Eloise away from Rowena. Elliot lives in a big house, lavishes expensive gifts on Eloise, puts her in a swanky private school, and hires a tutor who seems to know everything about everything. Binder obviously puts Elliot in a position of white privilege, but Binder never makes this a point of contention, even when it becomes apparent Black or White is less about race than it is about class. Elliot enjoys money and power; Rowena works her butt off to support her extended family. And as much as Eloise would like to get to know her absent father, she doesn’t want to lose all Elliot’s money can buy. So what emerges in Black or White is a showdown between the wealthy and the working class. Green is the only color that really matters in Black or White. That’s not to say Binder isn’t concerned about Eloise’s access to one side of her family. Black or White is sincere in its desire for Eloise to grow up in a safe, loving environment, one that allows her to grow up understanding who is she and better equipping her for the potential challenges she may face in her adult life. Binder also makes it clear that Elliot and Rowena both love Eloise but they are somewhat misguided in their efforts to do what’s best for her. There’s definitely a sense that Elliot and Rowena create just as many problems as they seek to resolve. None, though, originate from the racial differences Binder wants us to believe exist between Elliot and Rowena.
Aired: Jan. 29, 2015
Web site: http://blackorwhitefilm.com/