Black and White

With every generation, the culture barrier between blacks and whites is reduced. It's not too much of a stretch to say that race relations are the best ever, even though there's still a long way to go, especially in rural areas (and the reverse discrimination effect in highly-populated urban areas). Black and White is an in-your-face attempt to examine the clash of the two cultures that is happening today.

Fundamental to the film is that there exists the notion of "black" and "white" identities, that are adopted by people who are not capable of forming one on their own. (I will digress and say that any person who identities with a culture is allowing themselves to be objectified, and point to existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre to inquire into the dangers of objectification.) The movie focuses primarily on white people adopting black identities but also touches upon the issues of black people trying to make new lives out of themselves in an environment filled with prejudice and discrimination.

At first, Black and White may seem like a bit of commentary film, but it actually does have a plot which is quite intriguing, involving the choices a promising young black (of course) basketball player Dean (Allan Houston) makes which lead to an ending that makes the entire film a bit twisted (even though the message at the end is preachy and optimistic).

I'll spare you the plot details since they don't matter, but I will say that Robert Downey Jr. playing a bisexual husband in a sham marriage, and Tyson playing himself as a sage advice-giver, are hilarious! The rest of the characters aren't that memorable, and most of the actors .

There are some interesting things to be gleaned here. The film comments (through Dean's girlfriend Greta (Claudia Schiffer)) about how the problem of race and culture division can be alleviated by not categorising people into "black" and "white" but rather shades of colour. While that is an interesting observation, it overlooks the fact that no matter what the skin colour, ultimately it is the behaviour of the person that determines the division. While anecdotal cases may exist, as shown in the film, where nothing changes when a white person takes on a black identity and gets away because of his connections, if a group of people as a whole did it, that group would be stereotyped collectively. Humanity thrives on categorisations, and it is perhaps one of the greatest abilities of humans (what purpose it serves is another issue though people like Linnaeus arguably did something good with it). People in general tend to look at the world in terms of black and white since it makes it more manageable, and in the case of Director James Toback, even profitable. A more probable long-term scenario is the realisation that one needn't wear a gold crown to listen to hip-hop (and vice-versa), both by the gold crown-wearers and the hip-hop listeners as well as the people who seek to stereotype them.

More to the point, any continuum (shades of grey) sort of view must be made at the level of the actual sub-culture itself, and that's trickier, if not impossible: how do you readily discern how much someone is into hip-hop culture? When the culture pervades the mainstream, you can't, and that's where the future is. To get back to the objectification point above, when you have cultures, and you identify with those cultures, you make it easier for people to think in terms of black and white. And they will.

I earlier commented on the incorporation of black pop culture into the mainstream in my review of 3 Strikes. Black and White takes a more heavy-handed approach, and while that provokes some interesting thoughts, it's unnecessary, as the latter is what counts and what will ultimately effect change.

Movie ram-blings || Ram Samudrala ||