Beginning March 8, this six-part reality show from producer R.J. Cutler (“The War Room”) and rapper Ice Cube takes two families -- one black, one white -- and literally puts them in the other’s skin.
The white Wurgel-Marcotulli family is transformed to look black, while the black Sparks family is made to appear white -- all through makeup, prosthetics and wigs. They move into one house together and share their expectations, unload their fears and voice their anger about the process.
And, of course, the results are never black and white.
“Black. White.” is an interesting and I dare say noble pursuit (a reality show, noble?) Fortunately or unfortunately, no one TV show can change the world, but at best can spark discussion. Bringing the subject of race relations to such a populist venue makes it a shoo-in for water cooler debate.
Speaking of shoes … one of the more interesting moments in the first episode involves footwear. Brian Sparks, the 40-year-old patriarch of the black family, plays golf one day among “other” white men at a local country club. He then enters the pro shop, still in disguise, to buy a pair of shoes. After picking them out, a white salesman places the shoes on Sparks’ feet with a shoehorn.
Later in the show, Sparks relates how this was the first time he’d ever had a salesman place shoes on his feet -- usually, he says, he’s just handed shoes to put on himself. This is the kind of ingrained racism that Sparks hopes his white counterparts will come to understand.
And it’s a difficult concept for white dad Bruno Marcotulli to grasp. His barometer for racism is expecting to be called a horrific slur by white folks while he’s in makeup. The black family tells him this simply won’t happen. No one will call him names -- it’s in life’s small moments, like when buying shoes, that treatment can be belittling.
That’s not to say the black family -- the actual black family -- doesn’t face some blatantly appalling language. While in white makeup, they attend a focus group with “other” white families to discuss racism.
As they sit there among all whites (who think they’re white), one man says that while he doesn’t feel racist, he has had the impulse to wash his hand after shaking the hand of a black man.
It’s brutal to see the black family endure this discussion without giving away their true identities -- or clocking the guy in the head, which is what many viewers will want to have seen.
Carville and Devine’s Bolivian Adventure
A fascinating documentary opens in theaters this Wednesday, called “Our Brand Is Crisis.” It’s about how American political consultants -- well-known strategists who’ve appeared on many news networks, including FOX News -- are hired by politicians in foreign countries to advise their campaigns.
This film follows James Carville and members of his consulting firm as they help former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, known as “Goni,” win his second term has president.
Watch Carville colleague Tad Devine attempt to teach Goni how to make a TV commercial. See another, Tal Silberstein, tell Goni that he needs to launch a negative ad campaign against his toughest competitor. And cringe while Carville himself equates running a campaign with having sex (specifically, the dangers of “peaking too soon.” Yeesh.)
Though these guys are Democratic strategists, this film does not dive into this country’s conflicting ideologies. It’s an interesting fly-on-the-wall view of how American political thinking is transposed onto a vastly different terrain -- a country where the majority is indigenous and 70 percent of the population is living below the poverty line.
In trying to sell Goni, Devine brands him as the man who will solve his country’s crisis. Even if you’re up on your current events and know the outcome, it’s riveting to watch how Carville and crew operate in this setting.
You can see an interview with director Rachel Boynton and clips of the film in my reports on “Our Brand Is Crisis” Sunday afternoon on the FOX News Channel.
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