A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Black or White is a drama about race and family -- and also alcohol and drugs. It's flawed but thoughtful, and it tackles some extremely complex, difficult issues, making it a jumping-off point for discussions about tolerance, racial relations, and more. The main character is a very heavy drinker (to the point of alcoholism), and a supporting character is a drug addict (he's briefly shown smoking crack). Language isn't very frequent but includes one use of "motherf----r," as well as the "N" word. Arguing and tension is strong throughout, culminating in a rough fight scene that involves a knife and a blunt object. A character also falls into a pool cover and nearly drowns. Sex isn't really an issue; the main character has flashbacks to his late, beloved wife, and a secondary character is seen being affectionate with a younger girlfriend.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
After the death of his beloved wife, Elliot (Kevin Costner), finds himself raising his mixed-race granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell), by himself. Eloise's mother died in childbirth, and her father (Andre Holland), a drug addict, is out of the picture, so Elliot has been there for her since day one. Eloise's paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), lives in South Central L.A. and would like to help raise the girl in her full, busy house. When Elliot starts drinking heavily, Rowena sees her chance and sues for full custody of the child. Elliot finds himself walking a complex path, navigating a gray area between race and prejudice, drugs and alcohol, and his love for his granddaughter.
Is it any good?
Actor-turned-writer/director Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger, Reign Over Me) tackles some very tough material here in a very thoughtful way, even if it falls a little off-balance. None of these characters is perfect. Elliot gives a courtroom speech about how he does notice the skin color of a person, but only as his first thought. He argues that if his second thought is about the person under the skin, then that's the thought that counts.
Rowena's house is warm and filled with music, and Elliot walks through it comfortably, and with no racial bias. Rowena herself is shown to be smart and caring, but her all-or-nothing approach with regard to Eloise seems illogical (why not try for joint custody?). The character of Eloise's drug-addicted father is thin, and the movie's/characters' double-standard treatment of alcohol and drugs is barely acknowledged. But the movie gets big points for trying -- and for adding to an important social discussion. And the performances are excellent.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Black or White's violent fight scene. How does it bring all the movie's themes to a climax? Does it seem overdone? Too shocking? Not shocking enough?
How does Elliot view the issue of race? How do other characters view it? Do you think the movie considers any particular character's view to be the "right" one? How can you tell? And how do you know which ones are wrong?
How does the movie portray Elliot's drinking? Is he an addict, or is he using alcohol to deal with his grief and rage? Are there realistic consequences for his drinking?
Do any of these characters seem like stereotypes? Are they intended to be role models? How can you tell? What makes flawed characters sympathetic?
How does the movie deal with the issue of racism overall? Is it positive? Negative? Something in the middle? Does it acknowledge the complexities of the issue?
- In theaters: January 30, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: May 5, 2015
- Cast: Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Jillian Estell
- Director: Mike Binder
- Studio: Relativity Media
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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