Voices: Ruby Dee, Serena Henry, Ndehru Roberts, Linda Lavin, Danielle Robinson, Randy Kaplan, Matthew Jacobson, Travis De Lingua, Ashanti Williams, Winnie Zhang, Meredith Rosco, Robert Felice, Michael McGruther, Tommy O’Connor, Joel Briel, Perrotto, Jay Aubrey Jones, Askinazi, Heidi Stallings, Cassandra Dallas, Minbeleta Dallas, Mark Merren, Stan Strickland.
Perhaps the best way to teach kids to deal with racism is to show them kids dealing with racism, and that formula seems to work well in “Whitewash.”
It’s an HBO animation special “inspired by real events” about a young black girl named Helene Angel. She’s attacked by white bullies who use a can of shoe polish to paint her face white.
Helene Angel is driven to depression and seclusion by both the trauma and the media attention that ensues. Ultimately, a gentle history lesson in civil rights from the girl’s grandmother (voiced beautifully by Ruby Dee) and the support of her classmates help Helene step back out into her challenging, sometimes scary world.
“Whitewash” starts slowly, with the weakest scripting, pacing and voice work coming just as viewers will be tuning in, and perhaps tuning out. But “Whitewash” soon picks up momentum and starts making its points with feeling and impact.
The limited animation takes a while to get used to, but the overall look is strong and innovative, particularly the production design of Bridget Thorne.
Sound design by Ed Askinazi and music by Caleb Sampson add lots of depth, and musical performers Mad Expression give “Whitewash” a sharp, distinctive, impressive sound, though the rap passages will test the tolerance of non-fans.
Voice work is uneven, but it soars when the kid actors are let loose to voice their feelings about the racist attack and what to do about it. Future specs might consider using these kinds of segments as their foundations.
The overall message of “Whitewash” is one of hope. Racism is still an oppressive, devastating force, but one that’s being chipped away every day on a person-to-person level by people who care.
When, as this program dramatizes, the media so often showcases and sensationalizes incidents of racial tension, it’s refreshing to view a special that gives these important issues such introspective, insightful treatment.