Director: Mike BinderScreenplay: Mike Binder
Producers: Kevin Costner, Mike Binder, Todd Lewis
Starring: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Ehle, Jillian Estell and Bill Murr
BBFC Certification: 12
Kevin Costner has never been one to shy away from tough subject matters and controversial topics, (or was that Mel Gibson?). In any case, just as in the title, this film is neither one thing nor the other. Instead, it is a tale about the two main characters coming to terms with identity, loss and the pitfalls of coloured thinking and assumptions on both sides.
Black and White starts out with the loss of Elliot Anderson’s (Kevin Costner) wife in a car crash which leads him to the realisation that he now has to raise their mixed race granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell), all by himself. This is further complicated by his utter reliance on his deceased wife for anything to do with Eloise. He tries to obliterate his grief by climbing into a bottle or ten of alcoholic spirits but apart from turning him into a near pathetic wreck, it doesn’t even dim the immense sadness and loss he is going through. The one light in his universe is Eloise and her immediate needs, such as taking her to school or trying to help with her homework.
The biggest challenge however, comes in the form of Rowena, (Octavia Spencer), Eloise’s paternal grandmother who feels that she is better equipped to take over raising Eloise herself. Apparently, she tells Elliot in one of their many heated exchanges, his dead wife was the only reason she hadn’t insisted on taking Eloise hitherto to this point. The battle lines are soon drawn when Rowena involves her lawyer brother, played by Anthony Mackie, to prosecute her claim for sole custody. This galvanises Elliot into action, trying deperately to hold on to the only thing in his world that makes any sense. He even hires an over-qualified foreign tutor cum driver to bolster his efforts and prove himself equal to the task, drinks and all.
Poor Eloise is soon at the centre of an unlikely custody battle between her two grandparents; one a wealthy white male who has been present all her life but is now severely impaired by the loss of his wife several years after the death of his daughter, (Eloise’s Mother); the other a formidable black grandmom who runs a small business enterprise whilst also taking care of her many offfspring, including Eloise’s drug addict father. Through the course of the film, we get to see how both Elliot and Rowena’s characters confront and come to terms with painful emotions, memories and respective prejudice / assumptions about each other, their families and communities.
Things predictably culminate in a court room showdown which is presided by a no nonsense Judge, who also happens to be black and female, and which leads to a satisfactory but somewhat safe conclusion despite all the melodrama it took to get then to this point.
Black or White certainly presses all the usual racial buttons but somehow never let it overwhelm the story or get too trite, which says something about its deft handling of a sensitive topic. The film was immensely helped by the excellent performance of two Academy award winning main characters which arguably saves the film in my opinion. I enjoyed watching Kevin and Octavia play off against each other, as well as Jillian’s delightful role as a very believable Eloise. Good job overall.