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Kevin Costner's timely 'Black or White' enters the nation's racial debate

 Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in Relativity Media's
Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in Relativity Media's "Black or White."
Tracy Bennett
 Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in Relativity Media's
Director Mike Binder discusses a scene with star Kevin Costner on the set of Relativity Media's "Black or White."
Tracy Bennett

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Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Costner's latest film, "Black Or White," tells the story of an alcoholic man fighting to retain custody of his bi-racial granddaughter, Eloise, after the death of his wife. The couple had been raising the girl since her mother died during childbirth.

Eloise's paternal grandmother, played by actress Octavia Spencer, demands that her son, Reggie, a drug addict, get custody of the girl.

Costner told writer-director Mike Binder that he would get this movie made, no matter what. Ultimately, no one stepped up to finance the drama, so Costner decided to invest millions of his own money to keep his promise to Binder.

When we spoke with Costner, he began by explaining his sense of urgency about the project.  

Interview Highlights:

Why did you feel like you had to make sure this film got made? 

Mike [Binder] wrote an inspired screenplay. When I read this, it reminded me so much of how "Field of Dreams" made me feel, or "Dances With Wolves" or "Bull Durham." The screenplay was just electric, it was so smart and thoughtful and funny and would go left when I thought it was going to go right. In the very end, there's a speech in a courtroom and that speech just floored me. It was not politically correct, but it was incredibly thoughtful and yet it came out of the mouth of a drunk — a grandfather who is scared and fighting for this last connection between the two women he loved the most, [his] wife and daughter. I think it's a really unbelievable screenplay, actually. 

After you said to Mike, "I'm in," what happened with the project and what kind of work did you have to do to get this movie made? 

The [producers] that you think you would go, I went to. For a lot of reasons, it didn't match up with the kind of movies that they were making at the time. And going to all the usual suspects — the studios and the second-tier production houses — I was baffled. I really thought, This feels like a movie that can really, really work. I really kind of took a leap and said [to Binder], "We're going to make it. I promise you." When it wasn't playing out that way I thought, I have to stick with my word. I made the decision that I would finance it personally. Not something you wanna do — you're always advised heavily against doing that. I've done it before in my career with movies that I believe in and that I really want the public to see. And this was one of those movies. 

Where have you done this in the past and how has it turned out?

I've done it with "Dances With Wolves" ... It did turn out really well for me. When you put all the chips in the pot in the middle, and you're not bluffing, it's only history that will tell you if you've done the right thing. So when I pushed it out there and it was my house on the line, I was really serious. But I was more serious about making that movie than losing my house. I don't know what it is inside me. When I want to do something I just do it if I can't get anybody else excited about it. It causes you to question yourself, but "Black or White" was just something that I would not turn away from. 

Why did you feel so strongly? Did it speak to you on a personal, emotional, psychic level?

It just hit, for me, on all cylinders ... I love the movies, I still love the two hours in the dark of sitting down and being surprised. Surprise is a real emotion and movies still have that. When you see a movie that affects you, you want to share it. I wanted to extend the life of this story that I read. Unfortunately ... it would fall to me to do that. It's not really what I'd like to do. I'd like to go find a real rich big brother who would like to make American movies with me. If I run into another billionaire it'll be too soon. I am so sick of running into billionaires who [say] that this $9 million movie was suddenly just way too big a risk. That's not to say they're not smart. I guess that's how they get billions. But I'd like to run into the right person who wants to swing for the fences with me. 

As this film is coming out, we are torn apart by what's happened in Ferguson. As you're watching what is happening in the nation, and thinking about what this film has to say about race, how do you think the two fit together and what can people learn from what this movie has to say?

I think it's a jumping off spot to have this conversation ... Racism is rampant, it's there and it exists. The truth is, it would be impossible for me to ever put myself in the shoes of a black person, or a Hispanic person, or someone who has been the victim of racial bias. All I can do it empathize and try to get stronger, try to educate my own children. That's a reality and when people say, Well, just get over it, it's not that simple. 

Is a measure of the success of this film both if you get a return on investment and if it generates a conversation?

I've given up the idea of what's going to come back to me. What I hope is that this movie speaks out loud to people and that people are able to take some measure of value [and have a] willingness to share it. Because there's a power in it — at least I experienced one — and it was a feeling that I felt like I wanted to share. I'm not a dummy —  I would like [my investment] to come back, but I have let go of that being something of a driving force in me, because absolutely I have done what I intended to do. 

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