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BLACK OR WHITE is a compelling, powerful drama about a white grandfather trying to keep custody of his mixed-race granddaughter after his wife suddenly dies in a car accident, a tragedy that leads to a drinking problem on the grandfather’s part. Set in Los Angeles, BLACK OR WHITE is a moral exploration of the pros and cons concerning this situation. It also offers an insightful exploration of tensions between white and black communities in America today. It does have plenty of strong foul language and some tense situations, however, so strong caution is required.
The movie opens with the grandfather, Elliott, sitting in the hospital waiting room as he gets news that the car accident has killed his beloved wife. A rich lawyer, Elliott goes home to drown his sorrows and try to get the courage to tell his mixed-race granddaughter, Eloise, about her grandmother’s death. All her life, Eloise has been raised by her white grandparents because their daughter died in childbirth and her black father is a ne’er do well with drug problems.
A couple days later, Elliott tells Eloise what happened in an emotional scene. Then, her paternal grandmother, Roweena, decides to sue Elliott for full custody of Eloise. A determined woman who owns several business that employ other relatives, Roweena is helped by her brother, who’s a successful lawyer just like Elliott.
However, Elliot is still extremely angry at Roweena’s son, Reggie, not only for abandoning Eloise but also for convincing his daughter to hide her pregnancy from him and his wife. Apparently, the daughter had a heart condition that caused her death while giving birth to Eloise. Elliot thinks, if he and his wife had known ahead of time about the pregnancy, their daughter would still be alive. Meanwhile, Roweena is too close to her son to see that Reggie is too wracked by guilt and addiction to change for the good. She keeps making excuses for his behavior, even when he fails to show up for dinner at Elliot’s house to see Eloise.
The conflict between Elliot and Roweena over Eloise and Reggie continues. Of course, both Elliot and Reggie’s problem with substance abuse comes up in the court case. As it does, Eloise harbors a hope inside her that her grandfather and her father will eventually resolve their differences, and she can be with both of them. Can Elliot and Reggie overcome their substance abuse problems and reconcile with one another?
BLACK OR WHITE is not a perfect movie. For instance, there is some strong foul language and a couple scenes (including brief parts of the acting) could be a little more believable and less pat. That said, it’s a captivating, touching movie with excellent performances by practically all concerned. All the characters have their flaws. The movie isn’t afraid to show the chinks in the armor of all its characters, black or white. Is Elliot a bit uncomfortable, if not slightly racist, around Roweena and her family and friends? Sure. However, Roweena’s brother is anxious to make some possibly racist political points against white people raising black children, even one that’s half white. Also, Roweena herself keeps ignoring the fact that her son, Reggie, still has some character flaws he has yet to overcome.
Eventually, everything leads to some tense courtroom scenes and tense confrontation scenes between Elliot and Reggie, the last of which breaks out into violence. The resolution of these conflicts may not satisfy all viewers, but they provide some emotional relief and heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting moments.
All in all, BLACK OR WHITE is an excellent movie for mature viewers that will inspire more understanding and wisdom rather than less. It also shows the importance of being a good parent or grandparent. In fact, it’s their care and concern for little Eloise that ultimately provides the glue to bring the movie’s family antagonists together. Strong caution is advised, however, because of the movie’s foul language, tense situations and references to overcoming drug and alcohol abuse.

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