Film Analysis | Film Reviews

Review of Black and White and Red All Over

1 Dec , 1997  

Written by Julie Wolf | Posted by:

The screenwriting/directing team of DeMane Davis, Harry McCoy, and Khari Streeter shows, in spite of the heavy-handed title, that there is nothing black and white about these lives.

Entered in Sundance’s 1997 Dramatic Competition, Black & White & Red All Over is about the streets, but never takes to them. The characters leave their apartment; the camera doesn’t. On camera, the all-African-American cast gets high, laments the loss of certain sitcoms from BET’s regular schedule, and argues the position of blacks in a white US. But what happens off-camera — during the 9-to-5 world of some of the characters and the 5-to-9 world of the others — truly determines their behavior and the decisions they must make as part of their daily existence.

The premise of this film — a subversive, socially conscious sort of Friends — is believable and disturbing: the six friends return one by one to Kairo and Hope’s apartment after a wake for Hope’s mother and two younger siblings who had been gunned down by gang members in the Roxbury section of Boston. The behavior of Hope and his friends sends the all-too-real message that violent death is nothing new to these 20-somethings.

Black & White wants to be an Important Film. The screenwriting/directing team of DeMane Davis, Harry McCoy, and Khari Streeter shows, in spite of the heavy-handed title, that there is nothing black and white about these lives. Particularly compelling is Herb, who seems most torn, or caught, between dealers Gris and Ren on the one hand and achievers Hope and Kairo on the other. Herb wants to spend his vacation smoking blunts and taping music videos, and berates the unsubtly named Hope for working for white men (rather, the White Man). Neither Hope nor Kairo apologizes for playing by the rules of a society that will always notice first and foremost that they are black men; Gris, too, calls himself a "businessman."

Maybe that’s what this movie is about: the decisions and choices that confront black men. The women in the film are not nearly as compelling or complex. Dee (perhaps named for Rog’s little sister in the film’s beloved What’s Happening!?) is supposedly an integral member of the group, but her character feels contrived; her dialogue, rife with questions like "What do you think would’ve happened if black people never were brought from Africa?" often sounds unnatural, burdened with the screenwriters’ Point. Dee, however, directly addresses crime within the black community, and it is telling that her conversation isn’t often picked up by the men around her. The two white women in the film fare far worse than Dee. They are merely caricatures: one, Herb’s Barbie doll of a girlfriend, who seems to prefer exposing her parents’ racism through Herb to Herb himself; the other, Kairo’s beret-wearing, (adult ed?) class teaching Cantabridgian mother.

Unfortunately, at only 99 minutes, the film feels long. Getting high and debating E.T. vs. Malcolm X only goes so far in sustaining drama. The directors of the film, however, skillfully combine the movie’s agenda with its action; Black & White does not suffer from the overstylized feel of other "agenda" movies, such as Todd Haynes’ AIDS allegory Poison. In addition, tension between the characters, particularly Herb and Kairo, Gris and everyone, builds nicely to what some might see as the film’s inevitable, yet shocking, conclusion. The words of the never-seen friend Ed, who’s serving time, sound a haunting warning: "Just be safe. Ain’t too many of us out there."

Black and White and Red All Over will be shown on December 14 at the Avon Theatre in Providence, RI and on December 11 at 7:30 pm, December 13 and 14 at noon at the Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA as part of Local Sightings — an ongoing venue for the screenings of independent local films. For more info on the screenings, go to NewEnglandFilm.com’s event page and search for ‘Red.’ To find out about the Local Sightings series or purchase tickets, contact David Kleiler at 975-3361. Black and White and Red All Over will also be shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art on December 17 and 18. Tickets are available through the ICA at 266-5152.


Black and White and Red All Over will be shown on December 14 at the Avon Theatre in Providence, RI and on December 11 at 7:30 pm, December 13 and 14 at noon at the Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA as part of Local Sightings -- an ongoing venue for the screenings of independent local films. For more info on the screenings, go to NewEnglandFilm.com's event page and search for 'Red.' To find out about the Local Sightings series or purchase tickets, contact David Kleiler at 975-3361. Black and White and Red All Over will also be shown at the Institute of Contemporary Art on December 17 and 18. Tickets are available through the ICA at 266-5152.