Love in Black and White

The other day I went to see “Selma” with a friend of mine (it’s well worth the ticket and the running time), and one of the trailers promoted a new Kevin Costner movie, “Black or White.” Kevin portrays Elliot Anderson, a recently widowed attorney drawn into a custody battle over his biracial granddaughter, whom he has helped raise her entire life since the earlier death of his daughter. Octavia Spencer plays Rowena, the child’s Black grandmother who is challenging Costner for custody on behalf of her son. A crack addict.

First impressions from the trailer are:

  • These are some young grandparents! Costner just turned 60, and Spencer is all of 44. The child looks to be around 9 or 10, so if their characters ages are tracking close to their own, then the kids must have been a couple of wild teenagers when they brought that baby into the world.
  • Why does the father have to be an absentee parent, off somewhere in the streets smoking crack? Look, I know that absentee fathers are a harsh reality of Black life. But it makes the plot so complicated. They could have just kill him off in the same car crash that killed the daughter and landed the baby with Costner’s character. That would put both families on even footing, with real tension about who has the more legitimate claim over the child. But anyway.
  • This bet-not be some ‘White Savior’ shit! This complaint comes from more of my friends. ‘Is Elliot ‘rescuing’ the granddaughter from the absentee, crack-head Black father? Lord.’ I mean I didn’t miiiind “The Bodyguard” in 1992, when Kevin rescued Whitney from that melee in the club, then took a bullet for her. I mean he was the bodyguard, so it was his job. Plus, Rachel was a formidable character, not some irritating little damsel.

“Black and White” would rather not delve into the messy work of race-driven inequality and the attempts to keep Blacks relegated to second-class citizenship. It would rather take a toothless, sentimental look at it, through the events confronting a racially integrated family and the fate of an adorable little girl. The big question about the movie is, what is the grandmother’s angle in seeking joint custody? I researched the movie a bit, and found a clip that establishes Costner’s character as a heavy drinker. His alcoholism worsens after the death of his wife. Piled on top of losing what appears to be his only child and now here comes Grandma trying to take the last piece of his family away. Does she feel like the child would be safer with her, who doesn’t have any destructive vices,? That sounds reasonable, but why stand proxy for the loser son?

Elliott pushes back

I doubt any custody battles will erupt in my family in the tragic event that both Hubby and I die before our daughter is an adult. We have settled on one of his brothers to be her guardian, and as circumstance (and luck) would have it, that brother lives near a dear, dear friend of my family’s, who is Black. We grew up together, and our mothers are longtime friends. We’ve cared for each other’s kids, so there is a lot of trust there. I’m not worried about my daughter being misguided into losing touch with her Black heritage, and all the joys and life lessons that come from it.  (Now, if she were sent to the brother out in Seattle, I’d worry.)

If you want to know if “Black or White” is worth watching, look at this review from “The Wrap.” It basically says the movie is worth seeing because a show-stopping speech at the end raises a fundamental — but dumb from my point of view — question about race in America: “Is it allowed – for a white person to dislike a black person for reasons other than race?” What?!! Is that the kind of foolishness that’s on white people’s minds these days? So after all the deranged, hateful things that racist whites have done to enrich themselves at the expense of others, they want to know if it’s OK for them not to like one of us for reasons other than race? Well, let’s think about that. If they are referring to competitive wrangling in the workplace, public criticism lobbed at Blacks for having too many kids out of wedlock and on welfare, or for being the source of so much crime in inner cities, then yes, I would say whites are perfectly OK with gunning for Blacks for reasons that do not involve race. Whether they think someone else is playing the race card or not is irrelevant. They feel like it’s OK to come for us, because they keep doing it, don’t they? I feel like that’s a naive question — which is not atypical of journalists. Sometimes they have their heads so far up their you know what’s they can’t see common sense at all. If this represents breakthrough thinking in American filmmaking, then it suggests that the cerebral bar is very low, indeed.

I’ve been targeted for petty rivalries all my life, Hollywood! Where you been? Oh, I know. Wasting precious time and money cranking out tripe about long-suffering Mammies, about Jezebels and about Sapphires, or the typical “find love” movie for Black women, instead of digging down to explore how deep people really are. All kinds of catty women from various races and cultures have been perfectly OK with openly disliking me and saying, and doing evil things to let me know. Race alone did not motivate the:

  • Vindictive Jewish woman who detested me because I got the job she didn’t want me to have. This was obvious to everyone in our department. (She was conniving enough to anticipate the “race card,” then she enlisted the services of an Uncle Tom type to help thwart me, “just in case.” I still won. Bloop!)
  • Spinster white chick who stopped talking to me after she saw pictures of my new house. I mean, she repeatedly asked to see them, and then she couldn’t handle it. No wonder men retreat to their “caves” instead of trying to reason with some women.
  • Uppity Brahmin who didn’t think I was good enough for her friend (eventually my husband), and who became overtaken by Indrani‘s uglier traits of jealousy and wrath when she realized that he wasn’t just buying me nice things, but he wanted to marry me, too.

Maybe I’m the kind of woman who rubs other women the wrong way. There is something wry and flippant about me. But I really believe that most screwed-up people are motivated by something bigger than race; the good-old fashioned Seven Deadly Sins, and in the case of our country, Greed especially. Racism has been cleverly deployed as Greed’s handmaiden, and anyone who puts down their PlayStation long enough to think about our history understands that. It’s always been about controlling resources and power.

But in the case of “Black or White,” none of what I’ve said, and not even the show-stopping courtroom speech at the end resolves the central question in the plot: Is it OK for a wealthy white drunk to keep custody of his granddaughter? I say no. If a deadbeat Black crack-head can’t have the baby, then leave her with her grandmother, who seems to be the only adult in her life who isn’t dead or accelerating in that direction.

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