You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to hug Octavia Spencer.
Black Or White is a message movie, yes, but not as heavy handed and unrelenting as many such films tend to be. There’s humanity and love here to counterbalance the resentments and grudges.
Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) is an L.A. attorney. He and his wife have been raising his mixed race granddaughter, following his teen daughter’s death during childbirth. When Elliott’s wife is killed in a car crash, leaving grandpa to raise the girl by himself, the other grandma (who is African-American) Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer) decides to seek custody.
A key element of Black Or White’s charm is the little girl Eloise (Jillian Estell) who is the subject of the custody battle. Estell is cute and she’s a good actor.
While the relationship among the grandparents has been respectful if not warm, Elliott still has hard feelings against Rowena’s son, Eloise’s father, Reggie (André Holland) who he blames for his daughter’s death. When Reggie joins in the custody battle, things turn ugly.
Complicating the situation is Elliott’s heavy drinking. In fact, he drafts Eloise’s tutor Duvan (Mpho Koaho) to serve as his driver when he’s too drunk to drive.
The always great Anthony Mackie is attorney Jeremiah Jeffers, representing Rowena and Reggie. Standup comic Bill Burr is surprisingly good as Rick Reynolds, Elliott’s friend, law firm partner and courtroom attorney.
Black Or White could have easily slipped into the talky melodrama of a Hallmark or Lifetime TV movie, but with a busy plot and timely comic relief, it keeps up a good pace that should keep audiences engaged. Costner is the big star here, but Octavia Spencer is a joy to watch onscreen. Her takes are priceless.
This is a movie that Costner helped bankroll. He came to St. Louis, where racial polarization continues to bubble under, to promote the film and its message. Costner’s character says things that some white folks may have felt but never articulated. Rowena and her extended family are people who are easy to admire and respect. Black Or White presents a story that should entertain as well as provide a few things for everyone—black or white—to think about.