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Black and white - James Toback, Brooke Shields, Robert Downey, Oli Grant, Ben Stiller

Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities

Movie propaganda

What happens when you mix it up?

"I'm a kid comin' up out of the streets, trying to get on, make music, live a better life..."

Black and white is a searing, comedic and exhilarating look at race, sex and hip-hop in the melting pot that is Manhattan at the turn of the 21st century.

Featuring an eclectic cast of cultural icons, hip-hop stars and athletes, the film is driven by a pulsing soundtrack from Loud Records. When Rich Bower (Oli "Power" Grant) decides to leave behind his life of crime and re-invent himself as a hip-hop impresario, he is confronted for the first time by the internecine dealings of the white world. Documentary filmmaker Sam Donager (Brooke Shields) and her fascinatingly perverse husband (Robert Downey Junior) enter the scene as they follow a group of privileged uptown teenagers who, intrigued by Rich and his crowd, find themselves drawn to the hip-hop lifestyle.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all, NYPD Detective Mark Clear (Ben Stiller) attempts to trap Bower by blackmailing his childhood friend, Dean (Allan Houston), a popular university basketball player. When Dean's malevolent girlfriend Greta (Claudia Schiffer) tells Rich about the sting, she sets in motion a chain of events that will change everyone's lives forever.

Persons of interest

  • Scott Caan .... Scotty
  • Robert Downey Junior .... Terry Donager
  • Stacy Edwards .... Sheila King
  • Allan Houston .... Dean Carter
  • Gaby Hoffmann .... Raven
  • Kidada Jones .... Jesse
  • Jared Leto .... Casey
  • Marla Maples .... Muffy
  • Joe Pantoliano .... Bill King
  • Bijou Phillips .... Charlie
  • Oliver "Power" Grant .... Rich Bower
  • Raekwon .... Cigar
  • Claudia Schiffer .... Greta
  • William Lee Scott .... Will King
  • Brooke Shields .... Sam Donager
  • Ben Stiller .... Mark Clear
  • Eddie Kaye Thomas .... Marty King
  • James Toback .... Arnie Tishman
  • James Toback .... Screenwriter
  • James Toback .... Director

Non-agency intellgence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

White men can't jump.

And it's true! White folks just can't do certain things: jump, wear coloured clothes, wear baseball caps back to front, wear gold jewellery, rap and drive-by. Leave it to the people who know.

And they all smell like chicken.

Anyhoo, Black and white is a quasi-documentary about people in a quasi-documentary about people trying to be who they aren't. Some do it for fun, some for a sense of belonging, some for a need to rebel. Whichever, they're white and what they really need is a slap upside the head. Fortunately, in dramatic terms, the white kids never get that slap so they continue to push themselves and each other along the road of exploration. For them, it's a relatively safe flirtation with the exotic yet familiar danger of the African-American. At the end of the day (or night) they can toddle home to their white bread world and bask in the security of their middle class homes. They never experience the African-American's struggle: against the hood, against racism, against other African-Americans crawling over each other to reach the daylight.

The white kids are playing at being oppressed, the black kids are living it.

Audio plays a huge part of this film. Most soundtracks are there to create a mood then disappear so the actors can do their stuff. In Black and white the soundtrack is part of the life. Music fills the air like pollen in summer. It isn't relegated to the background but fills the foreground with its thumping bass line and hard-core lyrics.

If you're black - can you bleach? If you're white - can you dye?

Music is a character in Black and white, one which drives the others with relentless repetition of the shakiness of their positions. Some Italians open a new club? You got to protect your Hood - you got to be strong and you got to be seen to be strong or no-one's gonna respect. Life ain't about the choices you make but the choices you have to make: the options for the white man ain't there for the black man so the black man gotta make the hard choice every day of his life.

Oops, little bit of melanin showing through there.

Meanwhile, the acting is naturalistic. Most intriguing are Mike and Claudia: two figures from the real world, famous for things which have little to do with acting but delivering performances that come from themselves rather than the character they play (in Mike's case he's playing himself, but that's doubly hard when you're then put into a fictional situation). Brooke decimates her Suddenly Susan character with a pretentious, pushy, tragic try hard performance. Robert gets to play yet another homosexual (talk about typecasting) with issues.

Oli and Allan are black guys on the up and up. They can see the brass ring and they're reaching for it even though they're not allowed on the outside of the merry-go-round. They're an exercise in self-interest and frustration that occupies centre stage and rightfully so. They're intense.

Black and white is an uncomfortably uncompromising film that shows you what you don't want to see: the struggle to be more than you were given at birth. It isn't a pretty film, but neither is life. Watch and learn.

Media intelligence (DVD)

  • Audio commentary with James Toback
  • Alternate take: Terry and Mike
  • Deleted scene: Casey and Charlie
  • Isolated soundtrack
  • Music videos
  • Keeping it real featurette
  • Talent profiles
  • Trailer
  • Picture disc
  • Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Picture: Widescreen (16:9 enhanced)
  • Languages: English, German, French
  • Subtitles: English, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Icelandic, Hindi, Hebrew, Dutch, Bulgarian, German, Turkish, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Greek, Norwegian, Arabic, French

Security censorship classification

MA 15+ (Medium level coarse language, medium level sex scene)

Surveillance time

95 minutes (1:35 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

DVD rental: 4 January 2001

Cinema surveillance images

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