After Kevin Costner's fine performance in writer-director Mike Binder's “The Upside of Anger” – for which he won a San Francisco Film Critics Circle award – Binder approached Costner with several other offers.
It wasn't until the new “Black or White,” which Costner calls the “great American screenplay,” that the star's interest was piqued.
“It seems effortless, but it rode this edge. It's not politically correct,” is how Costner described the movie during a recent phone conversation.
“Black or White” tells the story of Elliot Anderson (Costner), a newly widowed lawyer who finds himself in charge of his mixed-race granddaughter, the adorable Eloise (Jillian Estell) and begins drinking profusely.
The girl's paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), wishes to take custody, though Rowena's son, the girl's father, is a troubled junkie.
Overall, it's a discussion of race, family and substance abuse. It tackles stereotypes. It features the N-word. It's filled with gray areas and has no easy answers.
“It's a discussion that we're having such difficulty with in this country,” Costner says, “and out of the mouth of a drunk is this great jumping-off point.”
In one key scene, Elliot explains how he sees other races. His first thought may be about their skin color, but his second, or third or fourth thought may be about the person inside the skin.
“If you get to your fifth thought and you still have a problem, then you may have a problem with racism,” Costner explains.
Indeed, Elliot is shown interacting comfortably with characters of different races. In this movie; good and bad has nothing to do with skin color.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Costner and Binder could not find funding for the movie, but Costner believed in it to the tune of putting up $5 million to finance it.
“No one thinks it's the smartest move, but I'm not an idiot,” Costner says. “I think this movie has great potential. I see it as classic entertainment. It has warm feelings and a sense of humor. This movie's sneaky-strong.”
He's not worried about putting off audiences with the threat of messages. “I'm really not in the business of making message movies. It didn't preach to me. It helped me,” he says.
How did it help? Costner says that he grew up in different times. He was born in Compton and went to school in Visalia, riding buses. In the 1960s, strong words were lightly tossed around.
“I was guilty of using those words,” he says. “It just became inappropriate. Now my children have a chance to be a better person than me.”
IF YOU GO
Black or White
Starring Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie, Andre Holland, Jillian Estell
Written and directed by Mike Binder
Running time 2 hours, 1 minute