Black or White is the story of a grandfather (Academy Award® winner Kevin Costner) who is suddenly left to care for his beloved granddaughter. When her paternal grandmother (Academy Award® winner Octavia Spencer) seeks custody with the help of her brother (Anthony Mackie), the little girl is torn between two families who love her deeply. With the best intentions at heart, both families fight for what they feel is right and are soon forced to confront their true feelings about race, forgiveness, and understanding. Anchored by an all-star cast and inspired by actual events, the movie is a look at two seemingly different worlds, in which nothing is as simple as black or white.
Elliott Anderson (Costner) is a deeply wounded man who medicates his grief with alcohol even as he struggles with the finer points of parenting. Determined to raise Eloise (newcomer Jillian Estell) on his own, Elliott believes he’s the only one who can truly care for her. Rowena Jeffers (Spencer) runs her family with a firm hand. She loves Eloise dearly and thinks that she has the tools to raise her granddaughter best. But Rowena and Elliott are more alike than they realize; both striving to do the right thing even as they are plagued by anger, resentment and fear.
“If Rowena is the matriarch of the film, Elliott is the patriarch,” says Spencer. “He has suffered tremendous losses—his daughter and now his wife. The last bastion of the life that he knew is his granddaughter. It’s so dark, you feel for him. You hate him at the same time you love him.”
In Black or White, no one is easily pegged as a hero or a villain. It’s a rousing story of two sides of a family whose best protective impulses might just prevent them from seeing what a child needs most. “People who see this film will have no choice but to feel something and to have strong opinions,” says André Holland (Selma), who plays Eloise’s father, Reggie. “This movie will definitely start conversations and bring up some potent feelings. I think that’s what art is supposed to do—help us see each other in different ways.”
Elliott believes his granddaughter is best off in his protected world. He can’t see what she might be missing. “The world Rowena provides is a world that Elliott doesn’t completely understand,” says Costner. “He’s just afraid of it, afraid of South Central. He knows his own world and he thinks his fence and his alarms will keep [Eloise] safe.”
It’s a battle, of wills—a battle over what makes a family—that will leave audiences moved, says Spencer. “Whether you’re with Elliott and against Rowena, or if you’re with Rowena and against Elliott, by the end of the movie, if you can’t find your way to the middle, there’s something wrong.”