Black or White is Really Gray


From Director Mike Binder comes a story designed to prompt you to pick a side, either black or white, but you’re left with the usual fare of racial inequality dribble and the glaring differences between black or white.

Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) must break the news to his granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell) that his wife, her grandmother just died. Elliott and his wife have been raising her in an upper-class, privileged lifestyle, sending her to private school because her mom (Elliott’s daughter) died in childbirth and her dad, Reggie (Andre Holland) is a junkie, absent father. Eloise is a biracial child so the title Black or White is fitting and represents the dual perception the audience can interpret from Eloise’s world.

Rowena (Octavia Spencer), Eloise’s grandmother is ready to become more involved in Eloise’s life and wants custody. It was okay that the Anderson’s raised Eloise, but now that Elliot’s wife is gone, Rowena believes that Eloise is better off with her black side of the family. Once Elliott objects and insists that he keeps custody, thing get complicated because Rowena brings in her high powered attorney brother, Anthony Mackie, who’s trial strategy to gain full custody is to paint Elliott as a racist. Elliott, also an attorney drinks heavily, probably to drown the pain, starts to unravel and creates more tension in his attempts to keep Eloise.

What’s wrong with Binder’s direction is that things are never black or white. Rowena has a heart of gold and hesitates to paint Elliot as a racist but goes along with the strategy and will do just about anything to gain custody. Elliott’s main reason for keeping his granddaughter is never really explained but we can postulate a number of theories, none of which are credible.

Elliott gets defensive when it comes to them playing the “race” card. He doesn’t want to go down that road. In reality you can never discard the “race” card, and Binder’s attempt to avoid it just sheds more light on it. Costner portrays Elliott in a solid, stunning performance. Spencer, on the other hand, portrays Rowena as part buffoonish and part savvy (can you say overacting much?), her eyes and mouth did most of the acting and she lacked the flair she brought to her role in The Help which earned her an academy award. The most entertaining scene of the film was the judge reprimanding Rowena during the custody hearing. Which was a pleasant surprise since everyone assumed the black female judge would favor Rowena’s side.

The film fails to tackle the real differences and reasons why a black family should raise a biracial child or why Elliott was unfit to raise her alone. Too many questions were left unanswered and the topic of racism was more of a gray area than a black or white one.

Starring: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell, Anthony Mackie
Director: Mike Binder
Company: Relativity Media
Now Showing: In Theaters
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (thematic elements, drug use)
Grade: C

Posted under: Home Entertainment