The film “Black or White,” starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer on opposing sides of a legal battle for custody of Eloise, their biracial granddaughter played by seven-year-ld Jillian Estell, delivers a heart-wrenching story interspersed with laughter.
The film, written and directed by Mike Binder, is loosely based on true incidents within Binder’s family. It opened January 30th to lackluster reviews and finished fourth at the box office, garnering $6,213,362 in gross ticket sales.
The film takes place mainly in the courtroom, but along the way beautiful character studies and familial life situations are depicted. At the heart of the movie is the very controversial and sensitive issue surrounding black children who are raised by white parents and interracial relationships.
Even though the film is filled with stereotypical characters with cliché’ character flaws, it is thought provoking in that the audience is compelled to take sides as the comedy and drama unfolds.
Costner and his wife had been raising Eloise since their daughter died at age 17 as a result of heart complications exacerbated by Eloise’s birth. Costner delivers a believable performance as that of a recent grieving widower who, due to his wife’s untimely death as the result of an automobile accident, now has the awesome task of raising his biracial grand daughter alone.
Costner’s character, Elliot Anderson, an accomplished and wealthy Los Angeles lawyer living in Santa Monica, California, is in direct contrast to Spencer’s character, a single parent and entrepreneur who resides in South Los Angeles’s Compton community, where she provides a home for her adult children and grand children.
Engulfed in grief, Anderson’s drinking accelerates to excessiveness and his parenting skills plummet to barely competent, prompting Eloise’ grandmother Wowena, played by Spencer, to seek custody of Eloise.
Spencer, most noted for her Oscar winning role in the 2011 film “The Help,” convinces her highly accomplished lawyer-son to file suit against Costner’s character to obtain full custody of Eloise. In a desperate attempt to win custody, she even convinces Eloise’s father, her younger drug-addicted son, Reggie, to pursue full custody.
Spencer does a superb job with her character and delivers much of the comic relief in addition to her poignant lines regarding family and race relationships. The film provokes tears, fears, and questions about white, black, right and wrong. The plot has many twists much to the viewer’s surprise. The film’s outcome is unpredictable.
Costner and Spencer signed on to this film because of their belief in the importance of the film’s message. In fact, Spencer came to set on days when she was being filmed because she wanted to see what was going on.
The interaction between Spencer and Costner is delightful in that they banter and insult each other, yet the mutual respect and appreciation they actually have for one another’s accomplishment and parenting skills comes through.
In spite of their differences, which are not only racial but also economic, they are bound by the best interests of Eloise. Estell, in just her third film, is adorable and quietly accomplished in her attempts to train Costner in how to discipline her and comb her very afro-centric hair, a task that her deceased grandmother had mastered.
The characters genuinely care about each other and there are moments of great tenderness and apparent love. What’s not so apparent is how the two sides of this family can blend and become a unit that can really raise Eloise and best meet her needs as a little girl of biracial heritage.
This brings me to a question I’d like to pose to you, the readers of this review. If you get a chance to see “Black or White” (and I hope you will), please shoot me an email and tell me what you thought about the ending and what you think about black children being raised by white parents. I will share your responses in my Austin Weekly News blog.
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