This looks like an interesting show. I know I'll be talking about it with the black chick in the office, whose traced her family tree back to the Bantu tribe of Africa ("same as Oprah Winfrey," she insists). Of all my black acquaintances, she's the most outspoken on racial-issues, and she has very strong opinions that don't let anyone off the hook, or absolve them of their personal responsibility.
She wasn't working here when the Simpson trial went down, but I haven't had the opportunity or desire to ask her about that one, yet. The worst defender of the outrageous verdict in our office, at the time, was a young white woman, who still works here. I had to stop talking to her for awhile, to avoid open hostility, such as trying to slap her awake. And then there was the black attorney who archly informed me, well before the verdict came in, that Nicole Simpson "married very well"--as if she should have been grateful for the lavish lifestyle, and accepted the brutality and cheating of OJ.
FX show 'Black.White.' depicts how gray race issue really is
BY MIKE DUFFY
FREE PRESS TV CRITIC
March 8, 2006
Television plays the race card with "Black.White."
But what may appear at first glance to be a cheap reality TV gimmick -- two families trading places and races with the assistance of wigs, spray-on skin tone and other Hollywood makeup tricks -- soon evolves into something quite compelling.
And that provocative something is a revealing, pointed exploration of racial attitudes in contemporary America.
"Black.White.," a six-part documentary series that premieres at 10 tonight on the FX network, follows the African-American Sparks family (Brian, Renee, son Nick) of Atlanta and the Caucasian Wurgel-Marcotulli family (Bruno, Carmen, daughter Rose) of Santa Monica, Calif., as they embark on a most unusual social experiment.
After undergoing 3-5 hours of racial makeup makeover each day, the various family members venture into the everyday world, testing out life in their new skin.
Transformed into a white man, Brian Sparks, a 41-year-old contractor, is pleasantly stunned to have a shoe salesman slip a shoe onto his foot for the first time in his life.
Meanwhile, newly black, 47-year-old teacher Bruno Marcotulli actually seems a little disappointed when no one calls him the N-word.
And because he doesn't bump into that overt racism and hostility, he rather blithely discounts more subtle forms of racial prejudice.
"I get joy because I put joy out," Marcotulli says. "I don't get suspicion because I'm not looking for it. I'm not coming at it with a chip on my shoulder."
There's also a tense moment between the wives, practicing dialects so they can talk "white" or "black." Renee Sparks is definitely not amused when Carmen Wurgel jauntily calls out to her, "Yo, bitch!"
While the four adults proclaim their open minds, open hearts and progressive attitudes, they often cling stubbornly to their own rigid, often opposing opinions on race.
But 17-year-old Nick Sparks and Carmen Wurgel's 18-year-old daughter Rose refreshingly represent a younger generation with a new, more open attitude, happily embracing the nation's vibrant multicultural reality.
When it comes to his friends and classmates and others, "I don't see black or white," Nick Sparks says. "I just see people."
During the filming of "Black. White." -- which is cleverly produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker R.J. Cutler ("The War Room") and rapper/actor/writer Ice Cube -- the two families share a Los Angeles area home
And that close proximity leads to a frank, occasionally acerbic debate between the various family members on the issue of race.
The producers are hoping the series, in its own little way, might help encourage a lively, open discussion of race. Such discussions are a rarity in a country where awkward silence has become the usual approach to the sensitive, emotionally charged topic.
"Look," Cutler says, "if people are talking about race in America, whatever they might be saying, then to me, the show will have accomplished something important."
Or as Ice Cube sings in the show's propulsive hip-hop theme song:
"Please don't believe the hype/Everything in the world ain't black and white."
Contact MIKE DUFFY at 313-222-6520 or [email protected]
Copyright © 2006 Detroit Free Press Inc.