Fox // 2006 // 273 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // September 21st, 2006
Don't believe the hype. Not everything in this world is black and white.
Two families swap races and live together for six weeks in a bizarre experiment that makes for great reality television. Races are exchanged, and tempers flare in this six episode mini-series which asks "Do you have your race card?." Meet the Caucasian Wurgel family and the African American Sparks clan hand picked for this show for many reasons. First off, they each are middle class parents with only one child. That makes the expense of the experiment significantly less and more manageable. They all have features which lend them to being transformed to the opposite race without prosthetics or anything too complicated. Both have strong feelings about racism and how America has progressed in this arena. Most importantly, they are willing to go on camera and fight with each other to create drama and tension out of the smallest slight or sneer. Welcome to segregation, television style!
Black.White. ran on FX which is the cable outlet for Fox television in 2006. I had heard quite a bit about the show and its premise without ever having caught an episode when it aired. It's meant to be a searing documentary on what two families learn about the color of their skin, but it's a sad state of affairs as each participant seems to see what they want to see out of their experience. What the show ultimately proves is that skin color goes much deeper than simple pigmentation, it's a state of mind and a cultural heritage. Just because you get some make-up doesn't mean you will transform and suddenly understand the other side of the race relation.
The kids are the most open and interesting to observe. The Wurgel's white daughter feels funny from the start about deceiving her new black friends from a poetry slam group she joins. She sees things more clearly than her troublingly baffled parents who see the black face as a chance to use the "N" word without consequence. The Sparks have a son who sees the chance to have some fun with being white, and he refuses to change himself much simply because he now looks like a surfer with braces. In essence these two participants give me the most hope that racial differences are disappearing quickly, as the two kids yearn to be authentic and true to themselves regardless of their color.
Not so the parents, who both want to force the world to show them they are righteous and correct in their individual assessments of racism. The white father sees nothing happening around him when he emerges as a black man, and the black father senses entitlement and finds he prefers shopping as a white man. One believes racism is a non-issue, and the other sees it as the only issue. The moms go at each other like banshees as they try to emulate what they think each other should act like. I got tired of seeing white Mrs. Wurgel in tears after black Mrs. Sparks got offended at her rather ditzy observations. At least the two women emerge with a respect for each other, while their respective spouses merely agree to disagree in the finale episode.
The DVDs offer two distinct ways to watch these shows. First up is the way they aired, and then you can flip to audio commentaries provided on each episode by the cast and crew. There are twelve hours of people talking about how daring and radical this experiment is, even though it seems as consequential as when Eddie Murphy went as a white guy on a bus on Saturday Night Live. The show affirms stereotypes, allows us to see two families duke it out, and in the end feels too much like a sensational reality show to feel serious enough to be a true documentary. Transfers are clear enough and presented full frame with an English stereo audio track. Aside from the commentaries are casting videos, a music video from Ice Cube, makeup application slide show, a look at Rose's Poetry Slam, and a DVD ROM study guide in case a teacher would want to use this in a class room setting to spark debate.
Black.White. features two families that should make both races cringe. The white family is innocently idiotic while the black family comes off as paranoid instigators. It seems both races are open to looking stupid for the sake of reality television. Perhaps that is the ultimate message. In the world of television we're all cut from the same cloth, and willing to undergo any degradation thrown at us for fifteen minutes of fame. Funny how a show designed to show our cultural differences ends up uniting us more than ever. But is it entertaining? Hell yes. Black.White the DVD set will entertain you for hours on end no matter what your race or religion.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 273 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentaries on Every Episode by Cast and Crew
* Ice Cube Music Video
* Original Casting Videos
* Makeup Application Slideshow
* Featurette on Rose's Poetry Slam
* Study Guides on DVD ROM