The movie Black or White with Kevin Costner and Octavia L. Spencer in the lead roles left me thinking about the complexity of race and its relationships. Every now and then a tear fell as this powerful story unfolded. It opens with Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) sitting in a hospital hallway. He is comforted by his colleague and friend, Rick Reynolds (Bill Burr) after he learns that his wife has just died from her injuries in a car wreck.
Elliot is a corporate lawyer who drinks heavily as he tries to cope with his immense loss. He and his wife have been raising their bi-racial granddaughter and he is faced with the unenviable task of breaking the news to this seven year-old. Her name is Eloise (Jillian Estell) and most of the movie is centered on her welfare. She has a reticent maturity which makes her quite adorable and this adds to the poignancy of this story.
A custody battle ensues when her African-American grandmother, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia L. Spencer) decides that Eloise should be with her side of the family after Elliott’s wife’s death. He is often too intoxicated to drive so he relies on his granddaughter’s math tutor, Duvan (Mpho Koaho) to drive him around. There are light moments in the movie; especially when Elliott tries to comb Eloise’s hair or when the tutor, Duvan is often seen presenting his written papers to prove his credentials.
But, when Eloise starts the court-ordered psychiatric evaluations her disposition changes and she starts asking more questions about her absent father. Elliott does not like what he sees and is more disturbed when her father, Reggie Davis (Andre Holland) actually shows up. He is an irresponsible drug user who cannot get his life on track and also has a history of needing to borrow money. His mother is the typical African-American mother who is overly protective of her male child. She refuses to see his shortcomings and encourages him to fight for custody of Eloise.
Elliott is very bitter because Eloise’s mother (his daughter) was only seventeen when she died in childbirth. He and his wife were not there and he sees Reggie as a hopeless loser for taking his daughter down such a dark path. Reggie, on the other hand, is being led by his mother and not even sure that he is ready to be a father.
But, the most substantive part of the movie is when the black man and white man have to face off. They both are forced to look down into a well that they have not had to deal with. Elliott realizes that his drinking problem is equivalent to Reggie’s drug use. Reggie realizes that he has not taken ownership of his reckless behavior and finally apologies to Elliott for contributing to his daughter’s death.
This movie is a must-see because it forces the viewers to face some tough issues about individual inner prejudices. Viewers have to take a look inside and admit some of their preconceived notions held about people from other races with lifestyles that are not understood nor embraced.
Yet, the innocence and protection of a child is the focal point. Eloise is like the eye of the hurricane. All of the debris is flying around her but she remains unharmed and intact as the adults act in childish ways. Eventually, they are altered and thus become more round.
According to Britannica.com, “Round characters are complex and undergo development, sometimes sufficiently surprise the reader.” I would say, go see this movie because interracial relationships are here to stay and this little girl gets the better of two worlds as a by-product of this union.
Lynn February 10, 2015