You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Black. White.

Documentarian R.J. Cutler and rapper Ice Cube dig into America's touchiest subject, race, by having two families walk in each other's shoes in the relatively racially calm climes of Los Angeles' suburbs. The reality series is consistently compelling, but how much of that is generated in controlled situations remains a mystery.

Documentarian R.J. Cutler (“War Room”) and rapper Ice Cube dig into America’s touchiest subject, race, by having two families walk in each other’s shoes in the relatively racially calm climes of Los Angeles’ suburbs. In “Black. White.,” a black family from Atlanta, the Sparks, maneuver in white skin; a a Caucasian trio from Santa Monica put on makeup and try to act black, and the two families share a house in Tarzana. The tension comes from their encounters with the outside world and with each other. The reality series, loaded with conflict and stubbornness among the participants, is consistently compelling, but how much of that is generated in controlled situations remains a mystery.

The first four episodes of the six-part series reveal entrenched attitudes and naivete (some of which is the result of these folks being put in contrived situations). The men, especially, enter with firm expectations: The white guy thinks he will be referred to by the n-word and the black father sees racial mistrust in every person’s actions.

The white family of Carmen Wurgel, her daughter Rose and Carmen’s boyfriend Bruno, who is misleadingly presented as husband and father, wear some mighty thick rose-colored glasses through this experiment. Bruno swears racism is a thing of the past; Carmen has seemingly not driven east of La Cienega in decades; and daughter Rose, a few months shy of 18, seems to be the most open-minded person in the group.

The Sparks family includes dad Brian, his often-incensed wife Renee and ne’er-do-well son Nick, who makes a point about the attitude of many youths — they just see people, not black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc. That p.o.v., however, gets Brian worked up to the point that he exclaims, “I shouldn’t have spent so much time trying to teach (the Wurgels) about racism. I should have been teaching my own son.”

Even though there are illuminating revelations here and there, the series forces much of the action. Nick heads to an etiquette class, allegedly so he can fit in the white world. To learn about black youths’ artistry, Rose goes to a poetry slam class and is overwhelmed. (It generates the series’ most honest reactions, but it’s a set-up that the producers don’t expose: They created an all-black class for her to attend, and the class organizers were in on the ruse.)

Brian gets a job as a white bartender in an all-white enclave and gets plenty of chances to read racism in comments of his patrons; the Wurgels, as a black couple, go into a country bar with a Confederate flag on the wall and, natch, don’t feel welcome.

Carmen is surprised by everything, especially the responses from Renee, who is easily offended by Carmen’s remarks. Renee, however, is rarely seen in her Caucasian get-up, and in the first four episodes is never in a black-white faceoff in her painted-on skin.

Without her black makeup, Carmen, in the fourth episode, discovers how complicated this whole issue is: She experiences fear in a black neighborhood, and at home, attempts to express gratitude to a group of teens. Yet, later, she receives a considerable amount of grief for her reactions. It drives home the difficulty of finding a level playing field in which both sides understand where the other is coming from.

The series comes to few conclusions, but indicates that fortysomethings might never agree on racial issues, and younger generations will pretty much have to ignore their parents’ prejudices if they want to shed racist skin. Yet there’s a taint over this project, which is presented as a breakthrough documentary rather than another trumped-up reality series; whatever answers may have come from the series are now clouded by a question of authenticity.

Film is remarkably crisp, and the outsiders who interact with the participants never appear too concerned about the presence of cameras. Sound, too, is remarkably clear. Both of which have to make one wonder how honest are all of these takes and how many are played up for the chance to be on TV.

Black. White.

FX, Wed. March 8, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Southern California by FX Networks, Actual Reality Pictures and Cube-Vision. Executive producers, R.J. Cutler, Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez; co-executive producers, Fernando Mills, Jude Weng, Keith Hoffman; senior producer, Michael Bernstein; supervising producer, Donny Jackson; producers, Alexandra Reed, Keith Vanderlaan;

Crew: camera, Derth Adams, Andrei Cranach, Todd Dos Reis, John Tarver; editors, Andy Robertson, Poppy Das, Greg Finton, Yaffa Lerea, Maris Berzins; music, JECO Music. 60 MIN.

More Film

  • Radegund

    Cannes Film Review: 'A Hidden Life'

    There are no battlefields in Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” — only those of wheat — no concentration-camp horrors, no dramatic midnight raids. But make no mistake: This is a war movie; it’s just that the fight shown raging here is an internal one, between a Christian and his conscience. A refulgent return to form [...]

  • John Wick: Chapter 3

    Box Office: 'John Wick 3' Knocks Down 'Avengers: Endgame' With $57 Million Debut

    Earth’s Mightiest Heroes put up a good fight, but John Wick put at end to the three-week box office reign of “Avengers: Endgame.” Propelled by positive reviews, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” beat expectations with a debut of $57 million from 3,850 North American locations. That was enough to nab the box office crown [...]

  • Game of Thrones Cast

    What's Next for 'Game of Thrones'' Cast Members

    Eight years and eight seasons later, the “Game of Thrones” cast finally has some downtime to relax or move onto other projects. Some stars, like Kit Harington, who told Variety that he doesn’t plan on taking another role as physically demanding as Jon Snow, certainly deserve a break, but others have wasted no time getting back on [...]

  • MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r)

    Submissions Now Welcome for Third 'Meet the Press' Film Festival

    Chuck Todd’s quest to bring “Meet the Press” to the movies continues. The third annual Meet the Press Film Festival, held in collaboration with the American Film Institute, will take place on October 6 and 7 in Washington, D.C., and remains a haven for issue-focused documentary shorts. Todd believes the event serves a critical mission: [...]

  • Challenges Still Keep Content From Traveling

    Cannes: Challenges Still Keep Content From Traveling to and From China

    Challenges still remain when it comes to buying, distributing and producing content that can travel between China and the West, attendees of a panel organized by the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival on the sidelines of Cannes said. Cai Gongming, president of Road Pictures, has hit box office gold in China with Cannes art-house titles such [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Cannes Film Review: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in 'The Lighthouse'

    “The Lighthouse,” the second feature directed by Robert Eggers (“The Witch”), is a gripping and turbulent drama that draws on a number of influences, though it merges them into its own fluky gothic historical ominoso art-thriller thing. Set in the 1890s, and suffused with foghorns and epic gusts of wind, as well as a powerfully [...]

  • Cannes: Diao Yinan Explains His Artistic

    Diao Yinan on Cannes Pic 'Wild Goose Lake': 'I Try to Portray the Opposite of a Utopia'

    In competition in Cannes with “Wild Goose Lake,” director Diao Yinan explained Sunday why he’s fascinated by dark crime thrillers – and why his new film features dialogue in China’s Wuhan dialect. “Such thrillers are not only an exercise in style; they’re also full of dramatic tension, and when you combine style with dramatic tension, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content