Vague Visages’ Black White and the Greys review contains minor spoilers. Casey Nelson and Marchelle Thurman’s 2023 movie features themselves and Jay Jablonski. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
In American pop culture at large, and certainly within the politically-charged world of film criticism, it’s seemingly immoral for far-left liberals to engage with traditional conservatives or people who don’t automatically drink the Kool-Aid made by the loudest tastemakers. And so it’s refreshing to come across Black White and the Greys, an inspiring and transgressive indie drama from writer-directors Casey Nelson and Marchelle Thurman. Set in 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 99-minute film follows an interracial couple as they work through unresolved marital issues. Black White and the Greys boasts the rawness of a heavy relationship-themed flick like Closer (2004) while impressively maintaining a light-hearted tone via comic relief.
Black White and the Greys stars Nelson and Thurman as Caleb Grey (a white and out-of-work camera operator) and Jordie Grey (a Black attorney), respectively. the film begins in media res as the couple appears to end their relationship, and then jumps back in time to explain the narrative context. Produced over 15 days with a $61,000 budget, Black White and the Greys primarily takes place inside the focal couple’s somewhat-luxurious home, with the filmmakers placing more importance on dialogue and their performances than flashy mise-en-scène or ambitious visual design. As the months pass, Caleb and Jordie continually clash while discussing societal changes, specifically the Black Lives Matters movement, politics in general and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, their dentist friend Mike (Jay Jablonski in a scene-stealing performance) shows up for some edgy political commentaries, in the style of an old school liberal like Bill Maher (or anyone who feels “politically homeless”).
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A variety of pop culture references create a sense of familiarity in Black White and the Greys. Incidentally, the realism stands out during extended argument sequences, all of which delve into the grey areas that frighten the morally righteous crowd so much. For example, an early sequence about the late Kobe Bryant sparks a heavy conversation about the NBA star’s past, which in turn leads to a deeper chat about Caleb’s emotional intelligence, most notably in terms of understanding and appreciating Jordie’s worldview as a Black woman. Both of the main protagonists deliver strong performances, as Nelson sells the frustration and big heart of his character, while Thurman taps into the complexities of feeling the past, present and future all at once. This push-pull dynamic in Black White and the Greys opens the door for Jablonski’s Mike to deepen the narrative via candid commentaries about modern liberalism.
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As Mike, Jablonski embodies a traditional liberal who values two-sided conversations. The bro-ish character doesn’t necessarily back down from any argument in Black White and the Greys, but he also knows when to admit that he’s not an expert on certain topics. Aesthetically, Nelson and Thurman utilize Mike for comedic cutaway shots — first, after a long outdoors argument between Caleb and Jordie, and then later during an interior scene, in which the filmmakers take a reverse approach as the male characters discuss the Black Lives Matter movement. The collective chemistry in Black White and the Greys boosts the realism even more, just like a classic John Cassavetes drama starring his wife, Gena Rowlands, and their industry friends. Plus, the film benefits from numerous needle-drops by musician Steve Reynolds.
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Black White and the Greys reads the figurative room particularly well. The film will challenge viewers with its heavy political dialogue, but that’s the point. Nelson and Thurman avoid hollow philosophizing — a crucial element that will hopefully translate to meaningful conversations for audiences. Black White and the Greys isn’t defined by its political dialogue, but rather by its handling of the human condition. And it’s arguably one of the best COVID-themed movie productions since the similarly minimalist Host (Shudder, 2020).
Black White and the Greys premiered at the 2022 Sedona International Film Festival and won the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature. The film is currently available on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play and Tubi.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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