Wednesday, April 5, 2000

Black and White

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Can you be ghetto without living in the ghetto? That’s the question at the center of the edgy new urban drama, Black and White, written and directed by James Toback.

The film enlists the talents of rap artists (Power of Wu-Tang Clan), supermodels (Claudia Schiffer), athletes (Allan Houston, Mike Tyson) and TV and movie stars (Brooke Shields, Bijou Phillips, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Stiller) to enact intersecting plots, documentary style. Shields portrays a filmmaker who, along with her gay husband (Downey Jr.), documents the lives of wealthy white kids immersing themselves in the affairs of Rich (Power), a street thug trying to go legit while pursuing a rap career.

Attempting to explore white fascination with the black-dominated hip-hop culture, Toback provides no answers, but at least skims the surface of an interesting social phenomenon indicative of pop culture in the 21st century. To be sure, racial boundaries have become less defined with the globalization of hip hop and with "urban" now a lifestyle that’s marketable, profitable and completely alluring to people of various backgrounds. While whites want a piece of the action for different reasons, blacks observe the infiltration with wonderment and suspicion, asking questions like "Why do they want into a world we’re trying to get out of?"

One of those wanting in is Charlie, a rebellious white teen who adopts a "ghetto" accent, dons a gold tooth and fulfills sexual favors for Rich as she assimilates into the world of hip hop. Seamlessly portrayed by Bijou Phillips, Charlie defends her morphed lifestyle with statements like "I’m a kid. I can be and do what I want. I’ll be over it in a minute."

As in his previous work, Two Girls and a Guy, Toback allows his cast to ad-lib. And here it works because witty, original dialogue mixed with profundity is the result. This is especially effective in the scenes with Mike Tyson, when Terry (Downey Jr.) stupidly attempts to pick him up.

Although the film explores two subplots more than it needs to, at the expense of a truly intriguing storyline about the cultural blending of youth, Black and White is a solid, creative effort.

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