FX’s ‘Black.White.’ cast discuss major life transition

Meredith Davisson

What would you do if a black friend revealed to you six weeks after you met her that she is, in fact, white? How would you react? Would your opinions of her change? Would you still hang out with her in the same places or with the same people? FX poses this question and others in Ice Cube’s new docu-reality show, “Black.White.”

Last Thursday, Rose Bloomfield and Brian Sparks, two members of the cast of “Black.White.” visited the Villanova campus for a Q&A session about the series.

Students packed into the Villanova Room in the Connelly Center for a discussion about the new show, as well as racial issues that exist on campus and in our society. Bloomfield, the white college student, and Sparks the black father, answered questions about the show’s production. During the six-week-long shoot, the cast sat for at least five hours of makeup each day, which included dentures, contacts and hair-texturing to make the wigs appear more realistic.

The scenario: Two families, one black, one white, living in one house. The two kids go to school, the four parents go to work. They come home and talk about their days. The catch: the two families have been transformed by renowned Hollywood makeup artists to appear as the opposite race. The black people look white, and the white people look black. Under these conditions, the six experience what it really means to walk in another’s shoes.

The discussion quickly shifted into an analysis of racial relations and the show as a social and anthropological experiment.

“It’s the first project like this to be so completely unabashed, and to show us, really, where we’re all wrong,” Bloomfield said.

But is the concept really original? John Howard Griffin chemically darkened his skin for the classic novel, “Black Like Me.” If we’ve been fighting it for so long, has racism improved at all?

“I thought racism today only existed on paper, in the employment world,” Sparks said about his experience as a white man. “It’s still there as much as it was in the 1960s. It is just a more evolved force.”

Does racism exist at Villanova? To help answer this, a live poll was conducted in the audience. “How many people feel comfortable openly discussing race with friends of different races?” The entire audience raised their hands. “How many people attended school with people of color?” Three-fourths of the audience raised their hands. “How many people went to school with at least a 50-50 racial split?” The sea of confident hands dwindled to about twelve.

As a traditionally white university in a PC world, is the university trying too hard to shed the “Vanilla-nova” image? The “Black.White.” discussion coincides with the Villanova One Book program’s controversial book, “Blood Done Sign My Name.”

“Crash” debuted on campus two weeks ago. Do these activities, books, shows and this heightened sense of racial awareness really improve things on campus or in society?

So what good does a show like “Black.White.” do? As the conversation slowly progressed, two anonymous upperclassmen in the corner of the room acknowledged the superficial tendencies of the questions. The two asked, “But what do we do now? How do we change things? When can we stop asking questions and do something? We know things aren’t getting better. This show only emphasizes that fact.”

Sparks’ answer: “You. You can’t meet people the traditional way, with your eyes open and your mind closed. You have to shake their hand with your eyes closed and your mind open.”

The presentation ended with a powerful performance by Villanova’s own Will Sheridan. “Educate, Ignorance is Ugly (Just Think),” is a personal testimony, a realization one person arrived at without six weeks of white makeup or reality television, addressing the way we should approach racism, starting with the individual.

“Let’s start a revolution and make a plan/A plan to move beyond tolerance and all together value diversity/Let knowledge be free, a universal university/,” he said.

Will’s poem echoed Sparks’ closing remarks, “I love this generation. This is where things are going to start to happen, start to change. You are going to be the ones to fill in the lines of history. But only when you’re ready.”