“Black or White,” which stars Kevin Costner as a man struggling to retain custody of his biracial granddaughter, hits theaters at a timely moment in light of nationwide protests over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police.
“I don’t think this film could possibly feel more relevant if it tried,” TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman noted at the start of a Q&A Monday that followed a screening of “Black or White.”
The conversation grew more intense as the audience and panelists including Costner, co-star Paula Newsome and writer-director Mike Binder confronted emotionally-charged issues raised by the film, which is in the middle of a one-week Oscar qualifying run before its wider release in January.
“When I read ‘Black or White’ I was electrified and I loved it from the first page,” said Costner, who also produced the drama. He added that he is particularly proud of the drama’s frank approach to its sensitive subject matter.
“You managed to do it in a very politically incorrect way, which we need so desperately,” Costner said to Binder, his collaborator on 2005’s “The Upside of Anger.” Costner added, “When we engage each other, we see more especially if we can keep the conversation going.”
The conversation at the Q&A grew more intense when Waxman asked the panelists for their take on the state of race relations in the United States.
“It’s amazing how the universe works that we wind up watching films like this in the midst of such divinely troubling times,” Newsome said. “I just can’t help but hope that something good will come of that.”
Newsome plays a family court judge who must decide if the child at the center of the custody dispute is better off living with Costner’s character, a hard-drinking lawyer or with her paternal grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer), an entrepreneurial matriarch who lives in South Central Los Angeles.
“We’re in a really, really challenging time,” Newsome began to say before an audience member interjected, “It started when Obama got elected, you know, from the first day.”
That comment provoked a restive response from the audience and prompted Costner to reflect on the nation’s troubled history with race.
“We can’t ignore what happened. We can’t re-write history and we can’t also re-invent it,” he said.
Costner, who has previously revealed he financed the movie himself after failing to find studio backing, said he spent the first seven years of his life living in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
“I was born in Compton. I heard the ‘N’ word all the time. I used the ‘N’ word when I was a kid, when I was a teenager competing in sports.” He said in terms of racial attitudes, “I’m better than my parents [were] and my children are going to be better than me. They don’t even think about this idea, this word.”
He added that as a country, “We’re trying to get better. I’m trying to get better. Are you? … We have to move past our history [but] not forget what we did to people in America specifically … But America is a great hope. And America has a chance because we are all in this together.”
“Black or White” hit the iPic Westwood theater for a one week run on Wednesday, Dec. 3rd and opens wide in theaters everywhere on Jan. 30, 2015.