Black and White Review

Image for Black and White

Documentary makers Sam and her gay husband Terry follow a group of uptown teens who want to be black, embracing a hip-hop lifestyle and paying court to gangsta Rich Bower.


Sex, guns and hip-hop fuel Toback's provocative ensemble drama exploring the state of the nation in the 21st century through its youth's resentful preoccupations. The tone is matter-of-fact, flip and wryly comedic, but the message is not good news. The melting pot is reaching meltdown, with tragic repercussions across race and class divisions.

Unhappy prep school poseurs from Central Park West luxury homes rebel against investment banker parents the way feisty Charlie does, by affecting language and attitude from Harlem. A criminal makes the most of the music industry's co-opting of street culture while puzzling what rich white kids want from him. And mutual exploitation is the order of the day, everybody using everyone else for sex, thrills, money, cred, emotional validation or career advancement.

Thanks to what is apparently his dizzyingly diverse social life, Toback has recruited members of Wu-Tang Clan, Vanity Fair writer George Wayne, Marla Maples, and athletes Houston and Mike Tyson to engage with seasoned cross-generational actors, from Elijah Wood to Joe Pantoliano and director's favourite, Robert Downey Jr., whose improvised scene with the scary Tyson at a party is an absolute lulu.

The effect is one of verisimilitude and vigour. The sourest note is Power and Tyson expounding - without any comeback - the old macho bull about men doing what they gotta do, in this case describing a fellow human being as "a bug" who "got to be stomped on", i.e. killed, and Power's "good girl" friend denouncing him as foul and disgusting, not because he's a criminal but because he likes white girls. This may be telling it like it is, but man, is it depressing.

Uneven but potent, edgy and disturbing. At his best, Toback is both a scathingly funny writer and a shrewd observer. Non-judgmental, it's this year's Kids (1995), but more considered and better crafted.