Black or White Review
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Throughout this year’s award season, race has been one of the major discussion topics—especially after deserving cast and crew members from one of this year’s Best Picture hopefuls, Selma, were overlooked by the Academy. Writer/director Mike Binder adds his own voice to the discussion with Black or White, a drama that tends to play out in the grey areas.

Black or White stars Kevin Costner as Elliot Anderson, a newly-widowed lawyer who suddenly finds himself caring for his granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell), while struggling with his own grief. Convinced that he’s not up to the task, Eloise’s paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), decides to sue for full custody. The legal battle quickly turns ugly as Eloise finds herself torn between two very different families. And when her troubled dad, Reggie (André Holland), joins the mix, both sides are forced to face their hurts, their prejudices, and their demons.

Black or White is a challenging film—one that’s sure to start all kinds of discussions and debates once the credits roll. After all, on the surface—as the film’s title suggests—it’s a matter of race. It’s a rich old white guy fighting against a black family from South Central L.A. Especially in the beginning, the race issue often feels forced, with Rowena accusing Elliot of not wanting Eloise to be with her black family—when that’s not necessarily the case. Or at least it’s not the whole story. Rowena is a strong and responsible woman who runs a number of successful businesses—and Elliot is well aware that Reggie comes from a good family. But his grief and resentment—along with years of bad experiences with her granddaughter’s troubled father—make him want to protect Eloise from the disappointment and heartbreak.

Regardless of their race, both of these men have their own struggles—their own vices and addictions. Neither one is perfect—and neither situation is truly ideal—which means that the story is anything but black and white. Adding to the challenge, meanwhile, is Spencer’s Rowena, who plays into all of the stereotypes of the boisterous black matriarch. Though she’s meant to be an admirable—if sometimes misguided—character, she often comes off as loud and unruly, with a chip on her shoulder and a blind eye for her son’s obvious problems. And, as with many of the players, her willingness to point fingers, pass judgment, and play dirty tends to overshadow what should be the real reason for the lawsuit: her love and concern for her grandchild.

Black or White isn’t exactly an Oscar-caliber film. It certainly has its share of flaws—from its occasionally awkward portrayals and disappearing characters to its slightly made-for-TV feel. Though it merely skims the surface of the story, it’s still the kind of film that will challenge you, get under your skin, and even make you angry—and it’s sure to spark conversations about race, character, and family.

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