| Michel Comte |
TORONTO, Canada (AFP) – Oscar winners Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer feud over custody of a bi-racial child in “Black & White,” offering audiences a fresh and intimate perspective on race in America.
The film, which premiered at the Toronto film festival, is loosely based on (“Reign Over Me,” “The Upside of Anger”) screenwriter-director Mike Binder’s own life.
His wife’s sister died young and had a bi-racial son whose father wasn’t in his life, and so Binder and his wife helped raise him.
“He was a big part of our life. He had another big family down in South Central (in Los Angeles), especially a grandmother who was really big in his life. We lived in Santa Monica at the time and it was two different worlds,” Binder said.
“And the only one who didn’t make a big deal about being black or white was him. He was just a little boy and he just loved the people in his family, in his life.
“I wanted to tell that story in some way, give my particular take on this whole race conundrum that we all live with every day of our lives.”
“Black & White” was coincidentally filmed during the trial of pistol-toting neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman mid-2012 for the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, and is being released after the recent public outcry over the police shooting of another unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Zimmerman claimed he acted in self-defense and went on to be acquitted of murder. Brown’s death is still being investigated.
The film also comes on the heels of two recent blockbusters on American race relations: “The Butler” and “12 Years A Slave.” The latter premiered in Toronto last year and went on to win a best picture Oscar.
Racial tensions in “Black & White” are set not against the usual backdrop of crime or politics, but within a family.
Double-Oscar winner Costner (for “Dancing With Wolves”) plays a cantankerous attorney who is left to care for his bi-racial granddaughter Eloise – played by newcomer Jillian Estell – after his wife is killed in a car crash. Eloise’s mother died at childbirth and her crack-addicted father split.
Suddenly Costner’s character is blindsided by a custody suit from Eloise’s African-American grandmother Rowena, played by Spencer, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her performance as outspoken maid Minny in the 2011 film “The Help.”
“What a complex situation race is in the world,” Spencer commented.
“We knew we were making a movie about race, but that wasn’t what we were talking about (on set), we were talking about a movie about family,” added Binder.
Costner, who previously worked with Binder on “The Upside of Anger,” noted that he grew up partly in Compton, California.
“I saw how people talked on both sides,” he said. “I felt like I grew up a little bit ignorant but I’m glad that I grew up.”
Binder and Mackie took the message a step further, saying it falls on the next generation to get it right. “I’m a firm believer that racism is ignorance, it’s something that’s taught,” Mackie said.