Black or White Parent Review
With a title like Black or White, it’s easy to assume the plotline would be the same. Two grandparents pitted against one another in a custody battle where racial and cultural differences play into the fight.
Thankfully the characters and the storyline are far more complex and complicated than the title suggests. As the movie opens, Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner) is sitting in a hospital corridor where he has just learned his wife (Jennifer Ehle) has died from injuries sustained in a car accident. A work colleague (Bill Burr) arrives and stumbles through an awkward attempt to comfort the grieving man. It is a painfully real moment for anyone who has ever had a similar experience.
Somehow Eliot gets home and drinks himself into a senseless stupor before falling into bed still fully clothed. In the morning, he’s awakened by his granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell). Even though he is her guardian, Eliot doesn’t know how to break the news to the child, so he simply drives her to school and drops her off for the day. Then he goes home to the bottle. It is a coping strategy Eliot has perfected since he lost his daughter (Eloise’s mother) seven years earlier, and a habit he falls back on now. But it also proves to be a problem when Eloise’s paternal grandmother decides to seek custody of the little girl.
Grandma Rowena (Octavia Spencer), the mother of Eloise’s estranged father Reggie (André Holland), lives in East LA, which Eliot considers to be the wrong side of town. However this capable matriarch owns several homes, cares for numerous nieces and nephews, and runs multiple businesses out of her garage. She worries about Eloise growing up without a motherly influence in her life. (A little exposure to some “soul” culture might be good as well.). So to make her point, she hires her brother to represent her in court. Jeremiah’s (Anthony Mackie) first line of attack centers on racial issues.
It is obvious that, even as much as Rowena wants Eloise, she is uncomfortable with making the suit a racial contest. Eliot is equally uncomfortable with his lawyers’ intention to dig up all the dirt they can find on Eloise’s drug-using, deadbeat dad.
As the story unfolds it becomes evident that neither situation is perfect. Rowena sees Eloise as a way to help her wayward son step up and accept responsibility for his little girl—something he is not overly eager to do. Already having lost his wife and daughter, Eliot can’t imagine having to give up Eloise as well. Yet his relationship with the bottle threatens to separate them.
To be honest, most teens won’t have any interest in this child custody trial. But adults may feel differently. The fact that neither grandparent is the clear and decisive choice seems much more truthful than simply making one the hero and one the villain. Unfortunately, this movie was originally rated R by the MPAA for language. And although the filmmakers successfully appealed and the rating was lowered to PG-13, the script is still full of profanities, including a strong sexual expletive and racial slurs. Scenes of inebriation, illegal drug use and a clumsy fight between a drunk and a drug addict are also depicted in the movie.
Still this story clearly shows that when it comes to what is best for the child, the answer is rarely as simple as black or white.Directed by Mike Binder. Starring Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Gillian Jacobs, Jennifer Ehle, Anthony Mackie . Running time: 121 minutes. Updated May 7, 2015
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Black or White here.
Black or White Parents Guide
From the Studio: Black or White is the story of a grandfather (Kevin Costner) who is suddenly left to care for his beloved granddaughter. When the little girl’s paternal grandmother (Octavia Spencer) seeks custody, a legal battle ensues that forces the families to confront their true feelings on race, forgiveness and understanding. Anchored by an all-star cast and based on real events, the movie is a look at two seemingly different worlds, in which nothing is as simple as black or white. Written by Relativity
Talk about the movie with your family… What does each grandparent have to offer Eloise? What things would she have to give up if she only had contact with one of them? What does Rowena seem to think that having responsibility for Eloise would do for the girl’s biological father? Is he interested in taking on his parental responsibilities?
How does Eliot treat other people? Does that change over the course of the movie? What does he learn about himself and others?
Several characters are accused of having a blind spot. Why is Eliot hesitant to take responsibility for his drinking issues? Is it sometimes difficult to admit to personal flaws or addictions? Who else deals with issues they are not ready to confront?
Eliot’s friend struggles to find the right words when Eliot’s wife is killed. Here are some ideas to help support a grieving person.