BLACK AND WHITE VS BLACK OR WHITE: Bioethics and Mixed Race Families

BLACK AND WHITE, screened at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival and later at the Mill Valley Film Festival, in October 2014.  The same title was also used to discuss the film in various film trade publications. However, the film’s title changed by the time of its USA distribution date, January 30, 2015. The word ‘and was replaced with the word ‘or’. That is, the film title became BLACK or WHITE.   Use of the word ‘and’ better reflects the courage of writer-director Mike Bender in broaching contemporary issues around race and class. The film only superficially reflects two entities fighting one another. Much more prominent in the story is a struggle for Black and White to save each other. Bender dares to suggest, we might all be in this mess together, sinking or swimming.  Ignoring antebellum period themes,  it’s a new take. 

Rowena (Octavia Butler) is the black grandmother of mixed race eight year old girl, Eloise (Jillian Estell).  Rowena is compelled to fight for custody against the child’s white, recently widowed, alcoholic, up scale lawyer grandfather, Elliott (Kevin Costner.) Rowena, and Elliot’s now dead wife, had a longtime truce regarding their grand-daughter’s best interest. The Black and White grandmothers together decided that the girl should live with the affluence Elliot’s family income could afford. The girl’s residence was conditional on a grandmother being in the Brentwood house. Rowena, aware of Elliot’s flaws in parenthood, including alcoholism worsening under the pressure of grief, considers the previous custody arrangement void. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.