The 400-Word Review: Black Or White
By Sean Collier
February 4, 2015
Black or White, the cartoonish melodrama produced by and starring Kevin Costner, is exactly what a dismissive segment of moviegoers thought about the 2004 Best Picture winner Crash.
That film was maligned for being an overwrought race parable, preachy and unrealistic. In Crash’s case, those criticisms were unfair (properly regard the film as fantasy rather than realism, and it’s hard to disagree); in the case of Black or White, they’re a perfect fit.
For those who thought The Judge was subtle, here’s your plot: Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner) has just lost his wife in a car accident, a few years removed from the sudden death, during childbirth, of his estranged daughter. The baby, Eloise (played later by Jillian Estell) survived, and being that her father, Reggie (Andre Holland) is a frequent felon, Elliot and his wife have been raising her. Now that the maternal influence in the house is gone, though, Eloise’s paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer) is angling for custody — just as Reggie gets back into town.
Black or White swiftly devolves into racially-charged bickering, as Reggie’s drug habit is contrasted with Elliot’s drinking problem en route to a series of climactic courtroom seems that wouldn’t fly on “Law and Order.” Director/writer Mike Binder tells the kind of story that smacks of good intentions but very little practical experience; it feels like he really wants to have defended his own thoughts on racial politics in real life, but has never been afforded the opportunity. (And that’s a good thing.) Troublingly, the film frequently throws in the sort of sideways defenses — one character calling another character prejudiced so we don’t have to, that sort of thing — that function as a cinematic “I’m not racist, but ...”
There’s very little to endorse here; I’m inclined to compliment the heartfelt-if-misguided performance by Costner, but given his producing credit, I’m not willing to praise him for anything at the moment. A few supporting turns — notably those given by Bill Burr, Anthony Mackie and Holland — are commendable. Beyond those, I can’t come up with a single praise-worthy aspect of Black or White.
This dreadful film is the worst possible answer to Hollywood’s ongoing race problem, a shoddily-written fable that reduces opinions and emotions to signifiers and clichés. It is a reductive salve aimed at the consciences of white Hollywood, and lazy one at that. Take pains to avoid it.
My Rating: 2/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark