The theater was flush with pride at last night’s premiere of Mike Binder’s custody battle drama, “Black or White,” held at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live — where star and producer of the film, Kevin Costner, and cast members Octavia Spencer, Bill Burr and plucky tween newcomer Jillian Estell came out to screen the movie and celebrate.
By way of introduction, Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, who championed the film, showered Binder with words of affection and praise.
“This is a really well-produced movie, and when you make a movie, you’ve got to have people who are creative and resourceful and work long, crazy hours,” Kavanaugh told the crowd. “I love you, Mike Binder, and I just want to make another movie with you. We all love you, Mike Binder.”
Binder spoke openly and honestly about the film’s challenge to find a studio distributor, thanking both Kavanaugh and Costner for their faith and financial backing of the project, which presents Costner as a grieving widower fighting to retain custody of his African-American granddaughter Eloise (Estell) following the death of his wife in a car accident. Spencer plays Eloise’s paternal grandmother, who believes the precocious grade-schooler belongs with the African-American side of her family. What follows is a heated familial struggle that aptly reflects the racially tense times in which we currently live.
“Nobody in my career has been as supportive of me as Kevin,” said Binder, who also wrote the script. “Not only does Kevin turn in an incredible performance, but he made it all happen. He said to me, ‘I promised you (that) we were gonna make this movie, and we’re gonna make this movie — I’ll just pay for it.’ (Kevin) brings this incredible combination of honesty and artistry to everything he does.”
Costner bashfully accepted the microphone and told the crowd, “When I read ‘Black or White’ by Mike Binder, I knew something great would happen. I thank Mike for giving me the part of a lifetime. If I never made another movie, I would be glad that this is one that I made.”
Following the screening, guests including musician Jackson Browne and Oscar-nominated “Midnight Cowboy” actress Brenda Vaccaro made their way over to swanky Wolfgang Puck eatery WP24 at the Ritz Carlton for drinks and a bevy of hors d’oeuvres that included hamburger sliders and ceviche.
Standing by the window with a panoramic view of the L.A. skyline, a pensive Costner revealed how deeply connected he was to the themes of race relations in the film.
“I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when people used the ‘N’ word really liberally — and a lot of times it wasn’t even in anger, but it was so ignorant and callous,” he said. ‘They used it in jokes. I would play sports and other kids would use that word, and African-Americans would use that word, and it seemed harmless. And you found yourself using that word, and one day you grow up, and you (realize) what it all actually means. It’s an ugly word and I’m ashamed I used it. The word has a real weight and I’m encouraged that the word is no longer accepted. So my life has been a real journey.”
Costner recently screened ‘Black or White’ for audiences in St. Louis, Missouri, near the site of the Ferguson police shooting last August that killed teenager Michael Brown and resulted in a national firestorm of debates.
“A lot of people said maybe we shouldn’t do that,” said Costner. “I thought to myself, ‘No, no, I think we should absolutely do that.’ Because the truth is that movies have the ability to change you a little bit, and movies have the ability to foster a conversation after the fact, and I think this movie will take its place nicely with those kinds of movies.”
“Black or White,” from Relativity Media, opens in theaters on January 30.
(Pictured: Paula Newsome, Mike Binder, Jillian Estell, Bill Burr, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner and Anthony Mackie)