'Black. White.' Addresses Racism in America

Brian Sparks, a black man temporarily transformed into a white man for the new, racially charged reality show “Black. White.,” learned that racism in America is worse than he thought.

“I found that racism is very prevalent in everyday society at all levels,” said Sparks, 41, of Atlanta, whose experience as a white man in Los Angeles last summer brought him face-to-face with people who admitted they always wash their hands after shaking hands with a black man.

Bruno Marcotulli, a white man, experienced no racism in his six weeks as a black man and therefore believes blacks exaggerate racism’s extent.

“I did not encounter racism," said Marcotulli, 47, of Santa Monica, Calif.,

Even after spending time as a black man for the show, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX, Marcotulli thinks conflicts arise between people because of differences that have nothing to do with race.

“Communication is the key to resolution of any conflict,” he insists.

The two men never do reconcile their different viewpoints about race over the course of this six-part series. Just about the only thing they agree on is that they took part in a unique experiment in which they and their families lived as members of another race.

Sparks participated with his wife, Renee, 38, and son Nick, 17. Marcotulli participated with his long-time partner, Carmen Wurgel, 48, and her daughter, Rose, 18. During the six-week shoot, the two families lived together in a house in Tarzana, Calif., where their experiences.

“It’s a social experiment,” said documentarian R.J. Cutler, who executive produced “Black. White.” with actor Ice Cube and Matt Alvarez.

“It’s certainly not a scientific experiment,” he cautioned. “We ask questions — what would happen when these two families (a) live together? and (b) use makeup and prosthetics to appear to be different to other people? What would they learn?”

Indeed, the show’s credibility depended greatly — if not completely — on the effectiveness of the transformation process. Otherwise, the participants would not have been able to “pass” as members of another race.

To pull it off, Cutler recruited Hollywood makeup and special-effects expert Keith Vanderlaan, whose credits range from the Martin Lawrence comedy “Big Momma’s House” to Mel Gibson’s biblical epic “The Passion of the Christ.” Vanderlaan developed makeup combinations especially designed for each of the show’s six participants.

The transformation process — including hair and all visible parts of the body such as hands, arms and shoulders — took nearly five hours each time it was undertaken — about four times a week. Both Sparks and Marcotulli agree it was a rigorous experience.

And yet, they both say they would do it again, despite their differences.

“I really enjoyed it," Sparks said. "I could honestly do it again and I could honestly do it again with the same family.”

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