Monday, October 22 , 2018, 11:54 am | Overcast 64º

 
 
 
 

Cinema in Focus: ‘Black or White’

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

Recognizing that the human race is diverse and individuals are unique requires us to deliberately look beneath superficial differences to examine the character of the person. But navigating this racial whitewater is not easy. We need help in recognizing what is in fact racist and what is human.

Helping us in that understanding is Mike Binder’s Black or White. As both director and writer, Binder creates a contrast of the mutual brokenness of a middle-age white grandfather and a young black father.

At the center of the tale is Eloise Anderson (Jillian Estell), a charming little girl who embodies both the black and white worlds as the daughter of a white mother and a black father. Her father, Reggie Davis (André Holland), abandoned her when she was an infant and her mother died in childbirth.

Adopted by her white grandmother and grandfather, we join the tale when Eloise is 8 and her grandmother has just been tragically killed in an automobile accident. It is at that moment that her secure, upper-middle-class home life instantly changes as her grandmother’s full-time care of her suddenly ends and her grandfather, Elliott (Kevin Costner), takes over.

Creating well-developed complex characters, Binder’s tale finds the good and the bad qualities in all the adults who step in to care for her. Juxtaposing the alcohol addiction of Elliott with the crack addiction of Reggie, concern is justified as Eloise’s black grandmother, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer), gets her brother, a successful attorney, to file for her to have full custody. But it is also clear that Rowena lives in as much denial as does Elliott and Reggie as she demonstrates a naïve codependency with her son and a racial prejudice against Elliott.

The conversations in the courtroom, the South-Central Los Angeles home of Rowena and the suburban home of Elliott are revealing. Weaving together realistic and honest communication with racial, legal, corporate and gender stereotypes, it is clear that even with good hearts it is difficult to share life, let alone a grandchild.

As the title implies, we are not Black or White; we are, in fact, a weave of black and white and brown and all the other varieties of humanity. Having far more in common with each other than that which divides us, humanity still struggles to understand this new union that artists like Binder are reflecting.

To encourage us in the struggle to understand and appreciate one another is a worthy purpose for the arts, and this film moves us forward in both.

Discussion

» When Eloise chooses to stay with her grandfather, she still wants to bring her father into the picture. Why do you think her father-wound that needed to be healed by her father could not be healed by her grandfather?

» It is difficult to imagine the grief that Elliott experienced when he lost both his daughter and his wife. The film shows him to be a man without friends or a faith-community with whom he could share his pain. How different do you think his life would have been if he had a church and friends who were not merely co-workers? Who would you turn to if you experienced such loss?

» The portrayal of the black lifestyle as being surrounded by family and the white lifestyle as being isolated could be seen as either an honest description or a stereotype. Which do you think it is and why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.