Kevin Costner Reveals Hollywood Wouldn’t Finance Racially Charged ‘Black and White’

“I said it 50 times that we should make this movie and at the end of the day, I had to pay for it,” Costner admitted at a Q&A during the National Association of Black Journalists Convention

Treehouse Films/Sunlight Productions

Kevin Costner admits he has many qualities, and fortunately one of them is persistence.

The two-time Academy Award winner (Best Picture and Best Director for “Dances with Wolves”) spoke openly about the challenges of getting his film “Black and White” made on Saturday at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Convention in Boston.

“I just thought it was an interesting movie … I can’t speak for why [no one would finance it]. I know a lot of people want to make these big, giant movies and I understand … But I thought this movie is just as valid as those movies. So that’s why I made it,” Costner said.

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The multi-hyphenate produced the racially-charged independent drama under his Treehouse banner, and screened it for about 200 journalists. Afterwards he was joined by his co-star, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), for a Q&A.

“It was really important for me to work with Kevin, who is a filmmaker. You learn by doing and you learn — I like to watch the best doing. So, I definitely wanted to be a part of it because of that,” Spencer said.

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“Black and White” centers on attorney Elliot Anderson (Costner), who’s raising his biracial granddaughter Eloise with his wife (their daughter died during childbirth). When his wife is killed in a car accident, the widower is drawn into a custody battle over the little girl, with her African-American grandmother Rowena (Spencer), who believes the child should be raised by her drug addicted, biological father.

Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner are interviewed in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 (Credit: Anita Bennett)
Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner are interviewed in Boston, Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 (Credit: Anita Bennett)

Costner admitted the project — written, directed and co-produced by his “Upside of Anger” collaborator Mike Binder — was close to his heart. Yet no Hollywood studio would touch it.

“I said it 50 times that we should make this movie and at the end of the day, I had to pay for it,” Costner said. But he also admitted, it’s not the first time he’s been turned down.

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“A lot of movies that I have made in my life have been a struggle for me to make —  ‘Dances with Wolves,’ ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘Bull Durham’ … and in this instance, ‘Black and White,’” Costner told NABJ.

Once he committed to financing the film himself, his next step was finding a female lead. “We have some very significant actresses out there that probably could play this role, but Octavia became our first choice and the choice of our director,” Costner said.

Treehouse Films/Sunlight Productions
Treehouse Films/Sunlight Productions

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“Black and White” features a stellar supporting cast including Anthony Mackie, Jillian Estell, Andre Holland, Bill Burr and Mpho Koaho.

While the film is deeply moving, it’s also peppered with clichés — Eloise’s crack addicted and absentee black father, black crackheads hanging on a stoop in the inner city, and the wealthy white grandparents who swoop in to give the child a better life.

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Still, Spencer says if you look deeper, you’ll see the film explores many important topics, including race in America, child custody issues and the importance of a strong family unit.

“We don’t like to discuss things that might be a little bit unnerving and uncomfortable … and ‘Black and White’ deals with a lot of issues.”

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Costner did not reveal the film’s production budget. But the fact that he reached into his own pocket to finance it, probably motivated him to “screen it publicly for the first time” in front of a group of black journalists, who would likely write about the movie and spread the word via social media.

During the Q&A, Costner admitted he secretly sat in on the screening to hear the audience’s reactions.

Anthony Mackie and Octavia Spencer appear in a scene in the film "Black and White"
Treehouse Films/Sunlight Productions

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“I heard you laugh in the right places. I heard you moved in the right places, and that’s all movies are about — moments and if you do them right — sometimes there are moments that you will never, ever forget,” he said.

The audience clearly enjoyed the film. But there were also audible gasps when Costner’s character yelled the phrase “street nigger” during a tension-filled scene. Costner said he wasn’t surprised by the audience’s reaction.

“Sometimes when people are losing an argument, they bring up, ‘well, you’re this, you’re a racist, or you’re something’ and you go ‘no I’m not.’ I found that this movie helped me,” he said.

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Spencer agreed. “This is one of the few movies that actually [deals with race], because people like to skirt around those things. But this is very direct.”

“Black and White” is expected to open later this year. It will next screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.