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Film Review: Black or White

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Octavia Spencer and Anthony Mackie co-star in the melodrama Black or White. (Courtesy Photo)

Octavia Spencer and Anthony Mackie co-star in the melodrama Black or White. (Courtesy Photo)

 

By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic

Race relations can be a touchy subject. Only a very perceptive filmmaker could tackle the topic and be remotely successful. It would require a writer/director to be smart, balanced, sensitive and able to see both sides of the issue. The characters would almost need to be extensions of our opinions and thoughts, so everyone has something in the game. On most of those levels, this very shallow, poorly conceived and developed film, which is based on a true story, is a well-meaning misfire.

A White middle-aged Los Angeles attorney, Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner), can’t get over the loss of his recently deceased wife. He’s turned to the bottle. His life is empty, except for the daily embrace of his biracial granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell). Elliott is content to raise Eloise, but he is inept when it comes to school schedules and child rearing responsibilities. His wife did all that stuff. Eloise lives with her granddaddy because her mom, his daughter, died in childbirth and her dad Reggie (Andre Holland), a drug addict, is MIA. Cue the stereotypes.

Mike Binder is an actor/writer/director (Reign Over Me): a jack-of-all-trades filmmaker. His movies are made for around $10 Million and gross around $19 million. He worked previously with Costner on The Upside of Anger, which fits the same budget/box office formula, and this ill-conceived film continues that pattern. The characters are poorly drawn. The dialogue is never memorable, unless Elliott is calling Reggie the N-word. And note that Black characters do not use derogatory terms when referring to White characters. Really? The premise is decent but the execution is preposterous and plays out like an afternoon soap opera. This kind of lopsided story doesn’t play out in real life. File it in The Help category.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Compton, Reggie’s family wants a little more sharing time with Eloise. In fact, the matriarch of the family, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), has decided to take Elliott to court. She is an entrepreneur who works out of her garage. Her nephew Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie), a successful lawyer, will handle the custody battle. Between bottles of Jack Daniels, or whatever alcohol is handy, Elliott and his law firm partners prepare for a fight. He also, to his credit, has hired a Black math tutor for Eloise; Duvan (Mpho Koaho, TNT’s Falling Skies) is a brainy, wizard type who Elliott also turns into his “Man Friday.”

Supposedly the story is based on Binder’s own experience co-raising a biracial child. Judging by what’s on view, he seems to know a lot more about rich White people than he does about Black middle class people. Maybe he should have hired someone like Duvan to tutor him on Black culture before he went down this path. The animosity between Elliott and Rowena is a joke. They hate each other, but he allows her family to come over and use his pool. Does that happen during most custody battles? Prepare to suspend your disbelief. It’s an action you’ll have to do over and over again if you stick with this movie until it ends 120 minutes later.

Kevin Costner has had his golden moments in film: Dancing With Wolves, Field of Dreams, Open Range. This is not one of them. He must be a teetotaler in life, because he is not a convincing drunk. Nor does he find any way to make any sense out of the pompous Elliott character. Think back to Costner’s appearance at Whitney Houston’s funeral. It’s that same grandiose persona. Granted Octavia Spencer can bug her eyes out with the best of them, but her shaping of the grandmother character, who wants her grandbaby home, makes no sense. It’s a tough character to play, because it is so poorly written. She was far better in Fruitvale Station, where she worked the character and its mannerisms like an Oscar-caliber actress.

Jillian Estell is a gorgeous little girl; she should be shooting commercials. But her acting is stiff. She is no Quvenzhané Wallis—not at all. Andre Holland brings no inner complexity whatsoever to the pathetic Reggie role. No depth. No extra dimension. Nothing. The supporting actors who play Elliott’s partners and staff are solid, SAG-card holding thespians and they turn in a strong days work. The one actor who seems to rise above the fray is Anthony Mackie as the smart lawyer who is embarrassed by his deadbeat cousin.

The film’s musical score is surprisingly rich and beautiful, thanks to jazz musician Terrence Blanchard, whose composing credits also include Red Tails, Inside Man and Love & Basketball. If the rest of the movie was up to his high standards, it would have been brilliant. The other tech elements (editing, set design) are fine but nothing stands out—except Rowena’s clothes, which look like they were pulled of a costume rack and not bought in a department store.

Black or White may have good intentions, but what they are, are not obvious from what’s on view. The burden of failure rests on the writer/director who hasn’t a clue how to portray Black families; can’t get a seasoned actor to play a believable drunk, and mixes drama, melodrama and comedy (courts scenes with a sassy judge and Rowena cause a chuckle) together into an unaffecting mélange.

Black or White doesn’t work on a sociological level. Does it set race relations back? Not really. Does it gives us any new insights? None. Is it entertaining? Somewhat, more like a stodgy extended episode of Days of our Lives than a hip exploration like The Young and the Restless.

Visit NNPA Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.

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ILWU Profile: Marcus McDade, Working on Oakland’s Waterfront

Oakland’s longshore and dock workers are the frontline essential workers for economic pandemic relief and supply-chain restoration.

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ILWU member Marcus McDade

“I was born and grew up in North Oakland and attended Washington Elementary and Claremont Jr. High School, then Oakland Tech and graduated from Berkley High. I work for ILWU, Local 10 and have been a longshoreman for 22 years.  

“Before becoming a longshoreman, I worked small, part-time jobs including as a coach for after-school youth program football, basketball and baseball for Oakland Parks and Recreation. 

“A buddy called me one morning and said that the longshoremen were hiring and to get down to Jack London Square, fill out a postcard and send it in before 5 p.m. At the time, I wasn’t sure exactly what a longshoreman did, but I knew it was a good-paying job with benefits. 

“When I arrived at Jack London, there was a line wrapped around the corner. My buddy kept saying it was a good job, so I put in for it.  It was 1999, and my name was picked from the lottery. The rest is history. 

“This is a great job. It takes care of my family, my kids and me. I started off as a dock man, unidentified with no benefits, then identified and went straight to B-man and then A-man where I still am today.” 

“I like the fact that you can start at the bottom (unidentified) and be promoted to the top as A-Man. I’ve completed numerous skill trainings that allow me to work various waterfront jobs for good pay, including but not limited to operating top picks, calamars, cranes, and transtainers. 

“Not only are the pay and benefits great, I also love the flexibility. I pick up my jobs from the Hall and if a job is available and in alignment with my number, I can choose it because I’m trained in so many skilled jobs on the waterfront.

“Currently, I have a nephew who works on the Oakland waterfront.  I’m proud I was able to help my nephew have an opportunity as a longshoreman. He is a B-man and loves his job. Working on the waterfront as a longshoreman can involve strenuous physical labor, so it is not for everyone.

“Howard Terminal is on designated port land, and it provides more work for our industry and helps the whole port run more efficiently while keeping idling and parked cargo trucks off West Oakland streets. 

“The Oakland A’s should not have a ballpark there. The A’s move to Howard Terminal with thousands of fans will affect the future of the longshore workers, truckers, residents, and businesses. It’ll be far too congested down here and unsafe for the thousands of fans and residents who would be crossing rail lines and 24/7 cargo truck traffic.

“Make no mistake: I want the A’s to stay in Oakland. I’m a huge fan. I grew up in Oakland and in the same neighborhood as Ricky Henderson and his family. However, it would be best if the A’s found a way to continue playing at the Coliseum. 

“Longshoremen are essential American workers that keep America supplied with goods.”

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Business

A’s Owner John Fisher Port Proposal No Good for Oakland

Billionaire John Fisher, owner of the A’s, has things to do before he can take over Oakland’s public port property to build malls and housing for the rich. 

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Howard Terminal on Port of Oakland Map

OPINION

Billionaire John Fisher, owner of the A’s, has things to do before he can take over Oakland’s public port property to build malls and housing for the rich. 

It is such a bad idea and the costs to the public are so ridiculous that logically it shouldn’t happen.  But this right-wing, Trump-supporting Republican has a boatload of money and a few corporation-oriented politicians to help him push it through.  

So, Oaklanders need to be active, or he might get it. Here are two of the things we need to act on: 

  1. Fisher won’t spend his own money.  So, he wants Alameda County to give up spending on things like the COVID-19 pandemic, so we residents can pay for his project with taxpayer money.  The vote on this will come up to the Board of Supervisors on October 26.  If you’d prefer that the County fund health care, housing and other resident necessities, ask them to vote “No.” Call your supervisor at 510-208-4949 and/or attend the meeting.
  2. The Oakland City Council will make the ultimate decision about Fisher’s project and there are a zillion reasons they should say “No.”  Among them: a) Fisher’s project requires that thousands of people run across the tracks of a busy railroad, which killed a number of people even before there were big crowds needing to get to their condos or a stadium.   b) And  Fisher’s project would wreck Oakland’s Port.  The “Seaport Compatibility Measures” necessary to keep the Port alive would cost hundreds of millions of dollars which would not be needed if it were not for Fisher’s project.  So, Fisher, not taxpayers, should pay for them. c)  And then there are all the other ways it will hurt the waterfront, the environment, and Port workers.

You can get contact information to reach your Council member here – https://www.oaklandca.gov/officials

Personally, any public official who votes for Fisher’s project will never get my vote again.   Call me hard-headed, but the harm to  Oakland as a working-class, multi-racial city, the harm to the ILWU (the union of Port workers, perhaps the most progressive union in America)  and the opposition of the people of East Oakland are enough to make my hard head think that’s what solidarity requires.

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Business

Development Group Proposes Black Panther Film Studios at Coliseum

Elaine Brown, former Black Panther Party leader and CEO of Oakland & the World Enterprises (OAW), has teamed up with master developer McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS), to create The Coliseum Dream development project.

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Elaine Brown via Twitter

Elaine Brown, former Black Panther Party leader and CEO of Oakland & the World Enterprises (OAW), has teamed up with master developer McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS), to create The Coliseum Dream development project.

Highlights of the Dream project are: readiness to purchase the city’s 50% interest; positive discussions with the Oakland A’s; installation of Black Panther Studios as development anchor, which will be the first Black-owned film studio on the West Coast; ability to finance the entire development, estimated at $5 billion; building of hundreds of affordable housing units; development of a luxury hotel and department store; creating and supporting youth tech, arts and business training centers; construction of a supermarket in a food desert; making Oakland a tourist destination.

Vince Bennett, president and CEO of MBS, a multi-billion-dollar housing developer based in St. Louis, said: “MBS is ready to immediately enter into a purchase and sale agreement with the City of Oakland and become the master developer of the entire site.”

The Coliseum Dream Development Group (CDDG) recognizes the impossibility of developing the Coliseum site solely by purchasing the city’s 50% interest. Partnership with the other 50% interest owner, the Oakland A’s, is necessary.  

Brown says she has discussed the site with Dave Kaval, A’s president, over the last few years, and said, “Dave has stated he loves the idea of Black Panther Studios as the anchor of CDDG’s development vision.”

The problem CDDG faces is not readiness on its part but the City Council’s unwillingness to entertain proposals other than those two they hand-picked in a recent closed session.

In a closed session scheduled for Thursday, October 7, the Council considered the merits of its two preferred proposals, based on reports from the City Administrator.  This closed session meeting arose from a vote of the Council’s Rules Committee on Thursday, September 30.  

In lieu of allowing Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan’s request to push through a resolution at the Council’s October 19 meeting to enter into an agreement with the group she is promoting, the Council decided to consider the two proposals.  

It’s unclear what happens next.

Brown said, “There is no process regarding the sale of the city’s interest in the Coliseum, certainly not one that is transparent.”

In a statement to the Oakland Post, Brown submitted the following questions and answers:

Q:  Everybody talks about jobs and housing.  Will your group be able to deliver on the promise in your Coliseum Dream proposal to create jobs and build affordable housing for the community?

A (Elaine Brown): “Oakland & the World Enterprises (OAW), of which I am CEO, is presently co-developing a $72 Million, 79-unit, 100% affordable housing project in West Oakland with master housing developer McCormack Baron Salazar (MBS), headed by CEO and President Vince Bennett. 

“This reflects my ongoing commitment to the ideal of the Black Panther Party, of which I was a leading member, of Black self-determination.  The track record of MBS for building affordable housing is without parallel.  Not only has MBS built thousands of affordable housing units throughout the U.S., as well as, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, MBS is currently building a $1 billion development in Dayton, Ohio, the Dayton Arcade, which includes hundreds of affordable housing units and is bringing residents, jobs, and visitors back to downtown Dayton.  

“Our Coliseum Dream anchor project, Black Panther Studios, alone, will create thousands of new, high-tech jobs, and we will build an affiliated tech training center to create a new generation of Black, tech-savvy “digital carpenters” to make films and enter the tech economy at a high end.

Q:  Even if you are willing and able to purchase the City’s 50% interest in the Coliseum site, how can you develop the site without either purchasing the A’s 50% or partnering with the A’s?

A, (Elaine Brown): “Our team is prepared to purchase the City’s 50% interest outright, today.  We have not discussed purchasing the A’s 50% interest with the A’s, but, if that were an option, we would take it.  We have been in discussions with Dave Kaval, A’s president, over the last two years about our Coliseum Dream, and Dave has unequivocally stated that if we were to acquire the City’s 50%, he would work with us.  And, we have told Dave, we are willing to partner with the A’s.”

The Dream Proposal is available here: https://bit.ly/thecoliseumdream

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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