The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada by Joanne Rappaport (review) [von Germeten]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2015-03-25 14:59Z by Steven

The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada by Joanne Rappaport (review) [von Germeten]

The Americas
Volume 72, Number 1, January 2015
pages 159-160

Nicole von Germeten, Associate Professor of History
Oregon State University

Rappaport, Joanne, The Disappearing Mestizo: Configuring Difference in the Colonial New Kingdom of Granada (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

Joanne Rappaport argues that even in the seventeenth-century classic satire known as El Carnero, set in what is now Colombia, the main character avoids identification as a mestiza, demonstrating the disappearing elusiveness of this term. The fact that readers cannot be sure if Inés de Hinojosa’s mother was or was not an indigenous woman brings directly to life the point Rappaport explores throughout her book. Subjects of the Spanish crown living in the sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and even eighteenth-century New Kingdom of Granada avoided categorization as mestizo when it suited them, although they sometimes took on the label if it seemed expedient at a particular moment. Rappaport effectively proves that identification as mestizo, mulatto, or even the more basic categories of Spanish, Indian, and black, does not equate to a stable, genetic, or genealogical “race” in the modern sense of the word. These categories are beyond fluid or malleable, the common explanation for why one individual might receive several different “racial” identifications during their lifespan.

Rappaport suggests instead that, at least in the New Kingdom of Granada, terms such as mestizo and mulatto do not necessarily represent an easily definable or cohesive group of individuals. In other words, regardless of what a person might call him or herself, or “pass” as within the Spanish world, we cannot hope to ascertain their “real race” from such a limited term, within this particular historical context. The designation of mestizo especially represents nothing other than an allusion, because this category did not carry a specific legal status or set of privileges within Spanish law. Therefore, students and scholars who wish to understand personal identity and society in the Spanish American viceroyalties must set aside our modern obsession with race as a simple unchanging way to categorize human beings. In fact, calidad, a broad range of attributes including stage of life, gender, occupation, personal wealth, spousal choice, place of residence, domestic setting, literacy, speech patterns, and style of dress, may have held more weight than what we call “race.”

Rappoport supports these arguments with ethnographic explorations of several suggestive case studies, in a far more effective and readable style than would be provided by the tiresome citation of innumerable confusing examples, or even worse statistical analysis. At the end of the book, the reader actually remembers the individuals under discussion and feels a sense of knowing them as well as possible and understanding how their life experiences elucidate why mestizos represent a “disappearing” category. Rappaport’s analytical narratives include individuals sometimes classed as mestizos, but otherwise known as a duped doncella, a politically engaged cacique, an adulterous widow, a frustrated, blustering upwardly mobile Bogotá alderman, a man who just wants to stay with his family and friends in an indigenous village, and even the stereotypical abusive, rabble-rousing mulatto. Rappaport also takes a look at the physical descriptions contained in casa de la contratación travel documents, the early modern version of passport photos, expressed in standardized verbiage describing hair texture, skin tone, and most importantly, beards. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the most common color used to describe Spanish skin was brown [moreno].

This book corrects simplistic ideas about the timelessness of racial categorization, even including previous efforts to historicize the alleged “hardening” of race designations in the eighteenth century. Rappaport makes an excellent point that historians of other parts of Spanish America should not assume the sistema de castas applied beyond New Spain, although it is even doubtful that it works as an analytical framework there. Even if Bourbon reformers attempted to “harden” racial lines or put a “caste system” into effect, scholars who spend their time in archives already know the need to question the effectiveness of these efforts. This book offers an important contribution to the historiography of Spanish rule in the Americas, and might even challenge and complicate undergraduate thinking on race. Understanding the history of the Spanish viceroyalties demands mental flexibility, and this book does an essential job of exposing where, through lazy thinking, we still hold onto rigid, anachronistic interpretations…

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San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown

Posted in Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-12 20:39Z by Steven

San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown

Arts Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA)
July 2014

Amy De Simone, Research Consultant
Kansas State University

by Robert J. Chandler. University of Oklahoma Press, February 2014. 264 p. ill. ISBN 9780806144108 (cl.), $36.95.

More than just a book about one man, San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown is about the emerging lithography scene in nineteenth-century San Francisco and Brown’s role in it as a mixed race artist and businessman. Author Robert J. Chandler, previously the senior research historian for Wells Fargo Bank, has done extensive research on the life and times of Brown. Though other scholars have written about Brown, Chandler’s work is the first comprehensive biography, which seamlessly references appropriate field literature to piece together Brown’s life from his birth in Pennsylvania to his death in Minnesota

Read the entire review here.

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Land of the Cosmic Race

Posted in Anthropology, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2015-03-08 01:34Z by Steven

Land of the Cosmic Race

Sociological Forum
Volume 30, Issue 1 (March 2015)
pages 248-251
DOI: 10.1111/socf.12157

Martha King
Graduate Center
City University of New York

Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico. Christina A. Sue. New York: University of Oxford Press, 2013.

In Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico, Christina A. Sue makes significant theoretical and empirical contributions to the field of racial and ethnic studies and to its growing subfield of comparative investigation. These contributions are more impressive because they stem from Sue’s dissertation and compose her first book. Her study is an ambitious ethnography exploring Mexicans’ negotiation of racial and national ideology at a micro level, as well as the themes of mestizaje (race mixture), racism, racial identity construction, and blackness in everyday discourse. Sue’s qualitative approach richly blends various sources: participant observation, interviews, and focus groups. Her fieldwork was conducted between 2003 and 2005 in Mexico’s urbanized Veracruz region, which lies on the coast southeast of Mexico City. As in comparable metropolitan areas in Mexico, the majority of residents are mestizo while a smaller proportion is indigenous. Veracruz, however, is unique because it is home to a higher proportion of people of African descent and its residents have more phenotypical variation. It was a major gateway for African slaves and has acted in recent years as an entry point for migrant black Cubans.

For much of Mexico’s colonial period, blacks outnumbered whites (p. 11). Finding segregation increasingly difficult to maintain because of race mixing, colonial authorities implemented a hierarchical caste system based on race, color, culture, and socioeconomic status with Spaniards at the top, then mixed-race individuals, Indians, and Africans at the bottom. During the postrevolutionary period, Mexican leaders and elites celebrated mestizo identity as the foundation of Mexican nationalism and distinction. This ideological turn was intended to cope with indigenous marginalization and social divisions and evade the period’s rampant scientific racism that would see Mexico as a less capable or worthy nation due to its black and indigenous population.

This postrevolutionary ideology is the foundation for Mexico’s contemporary national ideology. Sue describes contemporary national ideology as composed of three pillars. The first pillar is that of mestizaje, which upholds race mixture as positive and quintessentially Mexican (p. 15). The second pillar is nonracism, meaning Mexico is a country free of racism. Sue’s informants consistently confirm that because Mexico’s national identity is based on race mixture, then racism is inconceivable. The third pillar is nonblackness or the “minimization or erasure of blackness from Mexican national image, both as a separate racial category and as a component of the mestizo population” (p. 16). Sue argues persuasively that these three pillars are complementary in facilitating racial discrimination and the privileging of whiteness in Mexico.

Sue’s overarching question is how do individuals respond to, manage, and resolve the contradictions between Mexico’s national ideology and their daily experiences of white privilege and discrimination toward people of African descent (p. 5). Sue’s data persuasively show that mechanisms and discourse at the micro level play pivotal parts of reproducing ideology and social hierarchy in Mexico. Her work reminds us that elites do not, on their own, develop and maintain dominant ideologies. Instead, “the social force behind ideology lies in the popular realm” (p. 8)…

Read the entire review here.

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Imagining a future where racial reassignment surgery is the norm

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive on 2015-03-06 00:32Z by Steven

Imagining a future where racial reassignment surgery is the norm

Quartz
2014-09-27

Marcia Alesan Dawkins, Communications Professor
University of Southern California, Annenberg

Jess Row’s haunting new novel, Your Face In Mine, is an invitation to the future, an era bound only by the limits of imagination, money, and technology. It’s a time when you can edit anything about yourself—your location, occupation, your status and even your race—if you are a part of the right network.

In the future Row casts, some of us have grown accustomed to the sights and sounds of diversity and the ideal that law and culture treat every person equally. While others are experiencing “racial dysphoria,” or significant discontent with the racial identities we’ve been assigned at birth or the stereotypical roles associated with those racial identities. Row’s novel argues that racial dysphoria stems from the failure of racial assimilation in our techno-driven world. It’s a sign that racism persists even as race no longer seems to matter. The future Row casts is eerily reminiscent of what many cultural critics call our “post-racial” present, a time in which real racism persists without any real racists to blame…

Read the entire article here.

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BLACK AND WHITE vs BLACK OR WHITE: Bioethics and Mixed Race Families

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, My Articles/Point of View/Activities on 2015-03-03 18:54Z by Steven

BLACK AND WHITE vs BLACK OR WHITE: Bioethics and Mixed Race Families

September Williams’ Bioethics Screen Reflections: Film, Television, and Media Critiques Relevant to Bioethics
2015-03-01

September Williams, MD

Black and White, screened at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival and later at the Mill Valley Film Festival, in October 2014. The same title was also used to discuss the film in various film trade publications. However, the film’s title changed by the time of its USA distribution date, January 30, 2015. The word ‘and’ was replaced with the word ‘or’. That is, the film title became Black or White. Use of the word ‘and’ better reflects the courage of writer-director Mike Bender [Binder] in broaching contemporary issues around race and class. The film only superficially reflects two entities fighting one another. Much more prominent in the story is a struggle for Black and White to save each other. Bender [Binder] dares to suggest, we might all be in this mess together, sinking or swimming. Ignoring antebellum period themes, it’s a new take…

…Obvious bioethical concerns in Black and White include concerns for the best surrogate for a child whose parents are no longer able to parent; the age of autonomous decision making for children and historical injustices inherent in racism and classicism. The role of grief, acute and prolonged, in the context of substance abuse stands out. In the end it is the lagging of social construction, far behind the science of the human genome, that keeps viewers watching.

Stephen [Steven] Riley wrote an analysis of stresses, those identifying as Mixed Race, felt in filling out Box 9 on the 2010 United States census. He describes people agonizing about accurately portraying their racial identity. Riley states “For those who desire to portray their ‘accurate racial’ identity, I have news for you — ‘racial accuracy’ is an oxymoron. ‘Race’ as a biological, or anthropological construct is an utter fallacy”…

Read the entire article here.

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Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production by Crystal S. Anderson (review)

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-02 20:40Z by Steven

Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production by Crystal S. Anderson (review)

Journal of Asian American Studies
Volume 18, Number 1, February 2015
pages 107-109
DOI: 10.1353/jaas.2015.0003

Edlie Wong, Associate Professor of English
University of Maryland

Anderson, Crystal S., Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013).

Afro-Asian comparative racialization studies have begun to change how we think about race and its multiple and contradictory meanings across different periods of U.S. history. Beyond The Chinese Connection: Contemporary Afro-Asian Cultural Production contributes to this important trend in thinking about comparative constructions of race and cross-racial antagonisms and alliances. Earlier work on Afro-Asian comparative racialization such as Vijay Prashad’s Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting (2001) and Bill Mullen’s Afro-Orientalism (2004) tended to emphasize the revolutionary—indeed, at times utopian—forms of anticolonial transpacific polyculturalism and political collaborations. Anderson’s volume explicitly builds upon and broadens this work. According to Anderson, Afro-Asian comparative racialization studies often favor anticapitalist critiques, taking the 1955 Bandung conference as the storied origins of the global alignment of the political struggles of African and Asian peoples. In contrast, her book offers a self-described cultural approach that emphasizes historical and ethnic specificity, disarticulating the homogenizing panethnicities implied in the term “Afro-Asian” to consider “the way the histories of individual ethnic groups may impact their interaction with one another” (37).

There is perhaps no more fitting figure for this study than the martial arts film star Bruce Lee, whose cross-racial and cross-ethnic appeal transformed him into an Afro-Asian cultural icon in the 1970s. Anderson’s volume stages a series of encounters between Lee’s signature films—one for each of the four chapters—and a range of post-1990s novels, films, and popular culture revealing the complexities of inter- and intraethnic Afro-Asian interactions. Anderson begins with the film Way of the Dragon (1972) and charts Lee’s emergence as a transnational and cross-cultural phenomenon. “Lee’s legacy,” she argues, “functions as a framework to interrogate the contemporary landscape” (5). In chapter 2, Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973) facilitates an exploration of the limits and possibilities of interethnic male friendship in Frank Chin’s novel Gunga Din Highway (1994) and two mainstream Hollywood films, Rush Hour 2 (2001) and Unleashed (2005). In chapter 3, Lee’s The Chinese Connection (1972) allows Anderson to examine the theme of ethnic imperialism in Ishmael Reed’s satirical novel Japanese by Spring (1993) and the Japanese anime series Samurai Champloo (2004), while Lee’s The Big Boss (1971) frames the final chapter on intra- and interethnic conflict and solidarity in Paul Beatty’s novel White Boy Shuffle (1996) and the highly popular Matrix science fiction film trilogy (1999 (2003). These cultural case studies allow Anderson ample opportunity to engage in broader historical contextualization and considerations of Afro-Asian social dynamics. In the case of Rush Hour 2 and Unleashed, Anderson draws attention away from film reception to explore the historical underpinnings of their plots and characterizations, from Rush Hour 2’s eroticization of Chinese women and the 1875 Page Act equating all Chinese women with prostitutes to the economic exploitation of the Chinese coolie reformulated in Unleashed’s plot of human trafficking.

Anderson organizes these cultural readings according to how each work constructs Afro-Asian cross-cultural dynamics along a broad “continuum of intercultural interactions” (3). At one end of this spectrum lies what she identifies as “cultural emulsion.” A concept drawn from Homi K. Bhabha’s theory of hybridity, cultural emulsion designates those instances where “cultures come together but do not mix in response to pressures to reinforce ethnic or national boundaries” (3). Against this more limited form of cultural distancing, Anderson counterpoises the concept of “cultural translation,” which “uses one ethnic culture to interpret another ethnic culture” and “recognizes more complex combinations of cultures” across national boundaries (35). This framework of emulsion and translation lends a somewhat static quality to Anderson’s detailed readings, and the most compelling of the case studies predictably land on the cultural translation end of the spectrum. For example, Anderson explores how Samurai Champloo’s uses of African American hip-hop and graffiti aesthetics transform animated tales of eighteenth-century Japan into social commentaries aimed at urban Japanese youth culture. Her reading of White Boy Shuffle emphasizes Beatty’s experimentation with Japanese aesthetics and his encoding of African American political disillusionment in the subplot of ritual suicide and…

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The Lazy Storytelling of ‘Black or White': Love and Justice Are Not Colorblind

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-02-12 03:23Z by Steven

The Lazy Storytelling of ‘Black or White': Love and Justice Are Not Colorblind

Christ and Pop Culture (CAPC)
2015-02-11

D. L. Mayfield

I was at a writing retreat once where a bunch of us gathered together to talk about how to write well about social justice issues in our world. A young singer-songwriter with a folksy vibe came and played a set for us. He introduced a song as inspired by how sad he was at the racial divide of the city, and how it seemed that white folks and blacks folks didn’t get along. He launched into a song, the chorus going something like this: we used to sing so beautifully together/perhaps one day we’ll sing together again.

After he was done singing, one of my fellow writers—the only black man in our cohort, who also happened to live in North Carolina—asked the singer-songwriter to elaborate on the interactions that inspired the song. The singer stumbled over his words and told a few stories of interacting with African-American folks who to his perception seemed less-than-friendly to white folks. We all sat quietly as he shared his perspective, and later debriefed about that particular song. Why did it make us all feel so uncomfortable? Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the leader of our group (a man who has been involved in racial reconciliation work for decades now) leaned forward and in his southern drawl poignantly identified the trouble. What I want to know is this: and just when, exactly, did we ever all sing together?

…The recent release starring Kevin Costner, Black or White, is uncomfortable in the exact same way. Ostensibly this is a movie which dares to look at race issues: Costner is a white grandfather parenting his bi-racial granddaughter who becomes entangled in a custody battle by the black father and his extended family. By turns a tragedy, a comedy, a courtroom drama, with a dash of heart-warming family film. Costner plays Elliot Anderson, a wealthy alcoholic lawyer reeling from the sudden death of his wife. Octavia Spencer plays Rowena, the paternal grandmother of Eloise, the girl in Elliot’s sole care. Rowena (Grandma “Wee Wee”) and the extended family she takes care of live in Compton; Elliot lives somewhere else—a better part of LA, we shall say. Rowena and the family want to see more of Eloise but Elliot resists. In exasperation, they retain Rowena’s younger brother, a lawyer, to sue Elliot for full custody of the child. Reggie, the birth dad, shows up halfway through the movie, adding emotional intrigue. The audience is left wondering at the motivations of Reggie, who is introduced as a crack-addict and absentee father (“you’re a stereotype, Reggie—you ruin it for all of us”—his uncle tells him).

The themes explored are certainly worthy of a full-length movie. Eloise and her biracial identity, the way economics affects both parenting and legal procedures, the stereotypes we put onto one another, how certain addictions are more culturally acceptable—these are all fascinating and could prove to be invaluable insights into the pulse of a nation that is currently struggling with racial injustice and unrest. But Black or White addresses all of these issues in both a superficial and strangely maudlin way—so much emotion, but so little truth behind it…

Read the entire article here.

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The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era [Tejada Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2015-02-03 21:56Z by Steven

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era [Tejada Review]

Washington Independent Review of Books
2015-01-15

Susan Tejada

When a Crescent City toddler goes missing, the tensions of the post-Civil War South are exposed.

Ross, Michael A., The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

The case was combustible. Two mixed-race women, abetted by the son of one of them, stood accused of kidnapping a blonde, blue-eyed white baby girl in New Orleans in 1870. How did it end? Author Michael Ross expertly keeps readers in suspense as he weaves this true tale of crime, culture, politics, and colorful Southern characters — including a riverboat captain, “mulatresses,” and a precedent-setting Afro-Creole detective.

The case began on the afternoon of June 9, 1870, when Bridgette Digby sent her 10-year-old son, Georgie, and toddler daughter Mollie outside to play under the supervision of a teenage babysitter. Two stylish, fair-skinned African-American women happened to be strolling by. As they stopped to admire Mollie, a fire broke out a few blocks away, and the excited babysitter asked Georgie to hold his sister while she ran to watch the fire.

“No bubby, I will take the baby,” one of the women said. The women asked Georgie to lead them to the home of a certain neighbor. Once there, they told Georgie it was the wrong house, and then sent him to the market to buy a treat for his sister. A heart-stopping shock awaited Georgie when he came out of the market. The women were gone, and so was his baby sister…

Read the entire review here.

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Dear Hollywood: Let’s Stop Making Movies Like “Black or White”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-31 01:48Z by Steven

Dear Hollywood: Let’s Stop Making Movies Like “Black or White”

Forbes
2015-01-30

Rebecca Theodore

Halfway through the family drama “Black Or White,” Jeremiah Jeffers (Anthony Mackie) an Ivy-League educated lawyer, chastises his drug addict nephew Reggie (Andre Holland) in the midst of helping him regain custody of his daughter by asking, “Why do you have to be such a stereotype?”

A question I repeatedly asked myself as I had to suffer through yet another one of Hollywood’s latest “White Is Right” films about racial relations. In “Black or White” Kevin Costner stars as Elliot Anderson, a successful lawyer who is left to raise his biracial granddaughter Eloise, when his wife dies unexpectedly. Elliot’s life becomes further complicated with an escalating drinking problem and a fight for Eloise from her absentee father and paternal grandmother (Octavia Spencer).

Black or White” is the Iggy Azalea of race films – it operates under the guise of being progressive and furthering the “conversation” about race, but only serves to exalt Whiteness by marginalizing Blackness. The movie is chock full of Black tropes and stereotypes; the overbearing matriarch who coddles and enables her son’s inexcusable behavior, the “Angry Black Man” (Mackie) and the “Magical Negro” with Duvan (Mpho Koaho), who starts off as a math tutor for Eloise, but soon finds himself dispensing wise advice and becoming a personal chauffeur to Elliot when he’s too drunk to drive.

You would think in 2015 Hollywood would have evolved from such reductive narratives about race, but according to Dr. Jason Johnson, a political analyst and a professor of political science at Hiram College, it’s business as usual. “It is part of a genre movie we have always had, that’s making a comeback which I like to call the “Reasonable White Man” movie,” Johnson explains. “They are films that are ostensibly about race but are extended polemics where so-called progressive Whites are saying ‘I’m the only one who has a reasonable perspective on this and Blacks are irrational and unreasonable.”…

Read the entire review here.

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Review: Nuance-Deprived “Race” Movie ‘Black or White’ is Actually About White Frustration (Opens Friday)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2015-01-28 20:59Z by Steven

Review: Nuance-Deprived “Race” Movie ‘Black or White’ is Actually About White Frustration (Opens Friday)

Shadow and Act: On Cinema Of The African Diaspora
2015-01-27

Zeba Blay

“Black or White” opens nationwide this Friday, January 30, via Relativity…

Is it any wonder that a movie as lazily titled as “Black or White” fails to actually tackle issues of race and class in any meaningful way? Is it any wonder, when its writer and director is Mike Binder, a (white) filmmaker whose approach to storytelling has often lacked any semblance of nuance and subtlety? The movie, apparently “based on true events,” is about a custody battle over a 7-year-old biracial Eloise (charming child actress Jillian Estell), between her wealthy and recently widowed white grandfather Elliot (Kevin Costner), and black grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer).

When the movie begins, the little girl has been living with her white grandparents since the death of her teen mother at birth. However, after Elliott’s wife dies in a freak car accident, Rowena, a self-made woman who lives in Compton with a tight knit and sprawling extended family, thinks it’s time that Eloise grows up around other black people, fearing that she may lose a sense of her identity.

It’s a fairly intriguing premise, but one that must be handled delicately in order to work. Here, it doesn’t. Very much in the style of past Costner-collaboration, “The Upside of Anger,” Binder’s brand of comedy drama is far too broad. While Costner, whose swaggering charisma has always been his saving grace, turns in a decent performance, hinging on great chemistry with his child co-star, all the swagger in the world couldn’t save this film.

It’s a movie about race that doesn’t actually want to talk about race. Here, the focal point is the wealthy white man who we’re encouraged to root for, from the very beginning, simply by virtue of the fact that he’s in 90% of every scene. Octavia Spencer, once again, is called on to play a variation of the sassy black woman – her acting, as usual, is great, but she’s given little else to do than suck her teeth and roll her eyes, and provide both comic relief and obstacle for Elliot to overcome…

Read the entire review here.

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