'Black or White' Michigan native promotes new legal drama movie


– Photos by Robert Bruce Photography

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Writer/director Mike Binder and actor Anthony Mackie attended the recent red carpet premiere of their new film, “Black or White,” at the Emagine Royal Oak.

Binder, a Birmingham native, and Mackie — who played the winged super-hero called the Falcon in last year’s blockbuster “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — expressed their love of the Motor City, as much as they talked about “Black or White.”

“(Detroit) means everything to me. It’s my childhood. My family’s still here. It’s a great city. Whenever I meet people who say they’re from Detroit, it’s an immediate bond,” said Binder, a Birmingham Seaholm High School alumnus.

Mackie — a New Orleans native — is no stranger to Motown. He appeared as Papa Doc in 2002’s “8 Mile” — a semi-autobiographical film about rapper/actor/Detroit native Eminem — which was filmed in Detroit.

“I’m in Detroit. What could be wrong?” said Mackie. “I love Detroit. Detroit has become an art mecca for America. It’s always when there’s destruction, art moves in and makes beauty blossom. I’m very excited about the future of Detroit. I feel like as America grows the way it’s growing now, Detroit will grow. It will genuinely be the rose that grew from the ashes.”

Although “Black or White” — a movie about race relations starring Mackie, Oscar winner Kevin Costner (“Dances With Wolves”) and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) — is set in Los Angeles yet was filmed in New Orleans, Binder felt that Detroit needed to be included when promoting the movie across America, given the city’s racial history.

“Race is a tough issue,” said Binder. “It’s always been a tough issue.”

Added Mackie: “Being who I am, the idea of race is something that’s prominently in my life, day in and day out. When I read this script, I felt there was a humanity and a uniqueness that I never felt anyone dealt with in a script before.”

In “Black or White,” corporate attorney Elliot Anderson (Costner) and his wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle, “The King’s Speech”) have full custody of their bi-racial granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell, “So This is Christmas”) after their 17-year-old daughter died in childbirth. However, Carol is killed in a car crash, leaving Elliott to raise Eloise alone in the midst of dealing with his grief and struggling with alcohol.

Rowena Jeffers (Spencer), Eloise’s paternal grandmother who lives in South Central, feels Elliot is not up to the task of raising Eloise alone and demands she be brought under the care of her father Reggie (André Holland, “Selma”), a recovering drug addict. Eliot holds Reggie responsible for his daughter’s death and knows he’s still a junkie — something Rowena can’t see.

Nonetheless, she hires her brother Jeremiah (Mackie), a high-powered lawyer, as a custody battle between Rowena and Eliot ensues with Eloise caught in the middle. Jeremiah reluctantly takes his sister’s case, but makes it explicitly clear to Rowena that he has nothing but contempt for Reggie. 

“I felt that the speech I (gave) Octavia and Reggie in the lawyer’s office (that Reggie is a cliché who corroborates white people’s stereotypical views of a black man) — those are things I wanted to say to many different people many different times — people who were older than me and people who were younger than me,” explained Mackie.

He continued: “There’s a line in this movie where Kevin says, ‘It’s not your first thought that makes you a racist; it’s your second, your third, and your fourth.’ I felt like that no one had ever expressed that in that way before; I definitely hadn’t. I felt that was genuine and simple enough to where everyone could get it. We’re at a place now where there’s a new generation below us, and we have to let go of our ignorance and not pass it on to our children the way our parents passed it on to us. We have to let them grow and blossom and leave race where it belongs – and that’s in the past.”

According to Mackie, Costner’s line is what made him want to be part of this project and he immediately called his agent.

“I realized that line fueled the two hours around this movie. As an audience-member, I got that. That was something that was important for me – especially now – because we can’t label and identify everyone by one bad seed,” said Mackie. “If I go see this movie with one of my white friends, we can have a jumping off point and have an in-depth conversation about racism because the only thing that can stop you from being ignorant is when you’re informed. I think there are way too many people out there who are uninformed.”

Binder joked that when Mackie came aboard, he wanted one minor tweak to the script.

“(Mackie) said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I had wings and I could fly (referring to the Falcon)? … Just one scene. I’ll fly over the courtroom and buzz the judge and then I’ll sit down and behave the rest of the time,’” said Binder, eliciting laughter from Mackie.

Turning serious, he sang Mackie’s praises.

“I love Anthony. He can hit a lot of beats. He’s a full actor. He can do comedy, drama – he can obviously do action,” said Binder. “I said to him that his character’s like a young James Mason from ‘The Verdict.’ He took that and ran with it. The movie needed that weight. This guy brought so much gravitas to this movie.”

Binder stated that writing and directing “Black or White” was very personal for him. It’s based on his and his wife’s experiences raising Shawn, their biracial nephew, after the death of his mother (Binder’s sister-in-law). However, Shawn’s father wasn’t in the picture.

“My wife’s family and his father’s family came together and raised Shawn. He lived with us up in Santa Monica and spent a lot of time in South Central. Everyone was so obsessed with (his ethnic background) but him. He says, ‘Everyone asks if I’m white or black, and I tell them I’m just Shawn.’ I always thought it was a good world to write a story,” said Binder, who added with a laugh: “Then I turned him into a little girl, so he won’t speak to me anymore. So it really wasn’t the smartest thing to do in terms of relations with him, but in terms of the timeliness of this film… I thought it was a great story of how people have to come together and let go of old wounds and do what’s best for the next generation.”

This film marks Binder’s second collaboration with Costner, whom he worked with on 2005’s “The Upside of Anger,” which was partially filmed in Bloomfield Hills.

“I love working with (Costner). I hope to do another with him. I wrote another one for him. I wrote 4-5 movies with him in mind after (‘Upside’). And he said, ‘When the right one comes, we’ll know it.’ He read (‘Black or White’) and said to me, ‘Let’s do it. We’re making this movie,’” recalled Binder.

However, many studios wouldn’t fund it. But Costner invested his own money in it and received a producer credit, according to Binder. It was eventually sold to Relativity Media.

“(Costner) wanted it out there, he wanted it told. He let me do it the way I wanted to do it… I’m really lucky. I don’t think many people get to do movies like this without any studio interference at all,” said Binder. “This was a really great movie to make. I was working with great actors. The hardest part was getting the right cast. Once I had Octavia and Anthony, it was all downhill from there. The thing is we shot the script exactly the way I wrote it, so that makes me feel really good.”