Does the Movie “Black and White” Just Rehash Old Racial Stereotypes?

black or whiteBy Jamaal Brewer
If you have not yet watched the film Black or White, I’m warning you now that this is a *spoiler* alert.

I remember first learning about Black or White after it appeared in the upcoming movie trailers for Selma . It didn’t spark my interest initially, but as someone who studies race relations and propaganda I wanted to see exactly what image it would portray and the physiological effect it could have on the masses. Even regarding Hollywood, I try to be optimistic and give everyone a fair shake. However, after watching, I came away feeling like I had just watched the sequel to the infamous 1915 film Birth of a Nation, instead of a piece about the so-called ‘post-racial America’ that people want us to believe in.

Black or White is about a 7-year-old biracial girl who was being raised by her White family. After her mother passed away, her grandparents takes custody of her, with the grandmother doing the majority of the motherly duties. Unfortunately, grandma passes away due to a horrific car accident, leaving grandpa solo to care for young Eloise. But Eloise’s African-American family felt it was time for her to stay with them and filed for custody.

As expected, the Whites were upscale and abundant. Though the depiction of Eloise’s Black family wasn’t too surprising, I still had hope that they would be portrayed decently, considering we are in the age of the ‘first Black President.’ Instead, I had flashbacks of 1940 minstrels, i.e. the loud-mouth obese grandma, the illiterate cousins, and oh yeah, how can we forget Eloise’s father, who unsurprisingly was portrayed the worse of them all.

The father, Reggie, struggled with drug addiction. He impregnated Eloise’s mother when he was 23 and she was 17. If that wasn’t bad enough, he seems to only comes around when he needs to borrow money from the maternal grandfather, who blames him for his daughter dying of child birth complications. Grandpa Elliot even refers to Reggie as a “street n*gger” during one scene in the film. I could go on and on about the summary of this piece, but we’ll stop there.

Getting to the point, Black or White successfully depicted how Black men are not only a threat to the safety of White America, but to their prized women as well. Decades ago, you could find motion pictures of Black men appearing as savages who lusted for innocent blonde hair and blue eyes girls. Birth of a Nation was so powerful broadcasting this image that race riots were started throughout the country, countering the belief that what is displayed on the big screen is just entertainment. If such a racially-charged film had that kind of impact back then, why wouldn’t the same apply today?

Joseph Goebbells, a propagandist for Adolf Hitler, is famous for saying “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” And he was right, because throughout today’s media, you can find Black men and women in a dysfunctional state so much so that we subconsciously believe that it is the norm. It’s not an accident that mega-corporations pay millions for advertising. The subconscious mind can tell you McDonald’s is great, not because of how good its meals taste, but because you see their golden arches every five minutes.

Though important matters were discussed, the movie was tarnished by the aforementioned derogatory stereotypes. How much longer will we find this acceptable, and was it a coincident that the Reggie character turned violent when he didn’t get what he wanted? We look at characters like Reggie and then wonder why people try and justify the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others like them.

It is important to study how marketing and perception is shaped in everyday society. I am not quite sure what director Mike Binder was looking to accomplish when creating Black or White. If the goal was to bridge the gap between races, then, in my opinion, he failed majorly. This confirms why we have to put more emphasis on thinking for self and researching our true self-worth. Black people have given outsiders too many chances to do right, and the ball has been dropped repeatedly. It is now time we control and create our own desirable images.