Black or White (Relativity Media, PG-13)

black and_white_75It’s a film of division, not inclusion, and if we hadn’t all seen this film a million times before we might mistake it for trying to show us how we’re all different, not how we’re all the same.

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There’s a certain type of terrible movie that I feel somewhat guilty in panning, since they’re message movies with a message I can appreciate. But that of course doesn’t change the fact that they’re terrible films. See last year’s Gimme Shelter, or 1995’s Powder—they’re trying to teach love and tolerance, but are just so crappily made that you wind up angrier going out than you were when you went in.

That’s how the new Kevin Costner vehicle, Black or White, is—it tries to teach us to accept the faults in others and operate from a place of love while tearing down walls between races, but the film is so bad it has nearly the exact opposite effect—not only does it put up barriers between black people and white people, but also between men and women, children and guardians, Americans and foreigners, etc. It’s a film of division, not inclusion, and if we hadn’t all seen this film a million times before we might mistake it for trying to show us how we’re all different, not how we’re all the same.

This is troubling, too, as the components are theoretically in place for this to have been a good film. Though Kevin Costner is hardly reliable these days (was he ever?), one of his most recent good roles was in 2005’s The Upside of Anger, which was written and directed by Black or White’s writer/director, Mike Binder. Black or White is based on a true story, and I like many members of its supporting cast: Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie, Gillian Jacobs.

Costner plays Elliot Anderson, the grandfather of Eloise (Jillian Estell, basically good in a role that’s not much more than that of a pawn), who is the daughter of Elliot’s deceased white daughter and Reggie Davis (André Holland), the crack-addicted brother of Spencer’s Rowena “Wee-Wee” Jeffers. Elliot’s wife dies early in the film, and Elliot himself is of questionable reliability as a guardian of a small child—he’s something of a stereotypical, hands-off man (though he’s game to try to be a good grandparent), and also is dangerously close to being an alcoholic. As such, Wee-Wee wants custody of Eloise, and enlists her brother, Jeremiah (Mackie), a successful lawyer, to help her on her quest.

Now, let’s be clear—it isn’t so much that Black or White is racist against any specific race, but that its division between the races seems forced for the narrative’s sake. But really, one of my biggest problems with the movie is that it made me hate people—at the press screening I attended, to which Kevin Costner himself was also in attendance, the audience reacted very strongly to this transparently, artlessly manipulative and predictable piece of shit, and it made me dislike everyone around me for being such tasteless suckers. So much for bringing everybody together. | Pete Timmermann

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