Whoops, I unexpectedly took the month of February off. I think I was just enjoying Black History Month. So I'm back and all fresh with this month's Reel. It's 2014's BLACK OR WHITE. When BLACK OR WHITE came out, I was resisting the urge to prejudge so I decided to clear my mind, take a deep breath and plunge ahead.
Elliott (Kevin Costner) is man grieving the recent death of his wife while raising his deceased daughter's child Eloise, who was born during her relationship with a Black man. The unexpected death of his wife, sends Elliott into a tailspin of alcohol abuse.
Eloise's grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer), sees Elliott's struggle and wants to help, but she also thinks it's time for Eloise to get to know her Black relatives. Elliott has harbored animosity toward Eloise's father because he blames him for his daughter's alienation from her family.
Rowena is tired of waiting for Elliott to "come around" and also tired of waiting for her son to step up and claim his daughter. Her frustration precipitates a custody battle, which brings to the forefront, hard feelings and deep-seated racial issues.
Okay, I have some real mixed feelings about where this movie chose to go. I appreciate where it thought it was going, but it just didn't get there. It leaned so heavily on stereotypes on both sides. No one was willing to flip the script. It was still a white male driven story, I mean a white male wrote the story!
The Black side of the family lives in the "rough" part of town. The Black man is a jailbird, crack smoking, absent father who Elliott believes "corrupted" his pure white daughter. It smacked of Maine's Gov. Lepage's rant about drug dealers. While Elliott is just a poor grieving grandfather, with the more acceptable vice of occasionally drinking too much. So what if he's just "a little" racist, he loves Eloise. The movie does nothing to dispel racist stereotypes, in fact it reinforces them. It's more of a story about White fragility than anything else.
The hard part is that the acting is really good. Kevin Costner gives one of his best performances and Octavia Spencer is a heartbreaking force of nature in her role as Rowena. It's so hard, when you want to support films that have diversity, but the stories have to be as diverse as the people, but to do that we have to be allowed to tell our own stories or at least be consulted when cultural issues are explored.
Do I recommend BLACK OR WHITE? For the acting, yes! But look at it as a White Male story about White Fragility not a story about healing racism.