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Trading faces:

A twist on race

FX transforms two families

By MARISA GUTHRIE

DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

FX takes on the controversial issue of race in a new documentary series that puts two families - one white, one African-American - in the same house for six weeks.

That in itself is no great innovation. But "Black. White." - which is targeted for a March premiere - uses makeup to change the color of each family's skin.

"The question is: In 2005, does race matter," said executive producer R.J. Cutler. "Of course it does. But we tend not to really confront it. Racism is prevalent, and white America and black America are two different places. The only way they're really going to become one is if white people can find a way to see the world through the eyes of black people and vice versa."

The six-hour series chronicles the daily lives of the Sparks, an African-American family from Atlanta, and the Wurgels, a white family from Santa Monica, Calif.

For six weeks last summer, they lived together in Tarzana, a middle-class section of Los Angeles. Producers filmed them as they went about their lives in their new skin, which was courtesy of famed Hollywood makeup artist Keith VanderLaan ("The Passion of the Christ").

According to Cutler, "We spent the better part of a year ... designing the makeup, which has the unprecedented bar of needing to succeed not only under the scrutiny of the cameras but to succeed under the scrutiny of another human being who would be standing 3 feet away from you."

Cutler also brought in actor and musician Ice Cube ("Barbershop") to work on the series as a producer.

"I felt it was important to partner up with somebody who had a different perspective and was coming from a different point of view," he said. "He is one of the most powerful and articulate observers of the African- American experience."

Cutler brushed off the notion that "Black. White." could be viewed as a distasteful throwback to the days when minstrel shows were part of the entertainment scene.

"The fact that people are made up is not inherently problematic," said Cutler.

Sociologists tend to agree.

"The whole minstrel analogy, I think, is stretched and lame," said Daniel Monti, professor of sociology at Boston University. "There are movies in which black people pretend to be white and white people pretend to be black in mass entertainment.

"In terms of its larger impact, it depends on how people see it. If the viewer looks upon it as a bad joke or a potentially good idea gone bad, then there are all sorts of opportunities to define it as mischief at best and insulting at worse."

Cutler envisions plenty of opportunities for similar social experiments.

"Young, old, male, female, the concept of living in someone else's skin," he said, "there are many possibilities. I think anybody who's interested in entertaining and engaging and dramatic television is going to watch this. This is dramatic storytelling, and at the center of it are big, fat, important issues."

Has anyone heard about this? Anyone have any thought?

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I've heard about it. It seems interesting to say the least. I'm not quite sure how it'll work, but I'll probably watch it anyways.

But from the previews you can tell each family is in make-up..but maybe if you weren't looking for it

The first few times I seen the commercial, I couldn't really tell a difference. I never noticed that they were even the same PEOPLE, until I seen the commercial a few times and started looking at their eyes. If you were looking for it, I'm sure you could probably see their makeup and whatnot, but to a casual viewer/stander-by I don't think it's going to be very visible.

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http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/BlackHistory/sto...=1512957&page=1

This show will be coming on soon to FX in March. I watched Oprah the other day (of course) and she had the two families on her show. This looks to be a very interesting documentary. The Black family in the doc is from ATL. I wonder how it will reach alot of people. It's funny being in Atlanta as a Black Female there are alot of things that I see that sometimes dont bother me. But then I moved to this part of town (North GA)....not very culturally mixed and things just don't quite seem the same from being in the city. I hope that this show doesn't cause alot of misunderstanding and more of an education for not just both races but for all people in general.

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http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/BlackHistory/sto...=1512957&page=1

This show will be coming on soon to FX in March. I watched Oprah the other day (of course) and she had the two families on her show. This looks to be a very interesting documentary. The Black family in the doc is from ATL. I wonder how it will reach alot of people. It's funny being in Atlanta as a Black Female there are alot of things that I see that sometimes dont bother me. But then I moved to this part of town (North GA)....not very culturally mixed and things just don't quite seem the same from being in the city. I hope that this show doesn't cause alot of misunderstanding and more of an education for not just both races but for all people in general.

I couldnt agree with u more.. I cant wait to see it. Should be interesting!

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I saw them on Oprah too.....the black man is such a PRICK!!!!!!!!! I think he goes out looking for any teeny little thing that could be considered racist. Oh, he was such a jerk. And, why was the black kid on there, he didn't say one word!

I still think it'll be interesting to watch, but we'll see...

P.S. They couldn't have found WORSE wigs for the black family....they were TERRIBLE!!!

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I was planning to watch this show but watching the two families interact on Oprah, to "promote" the already wrapped up documentary, changed my mind.

I thought this would be an experiment in which both families, along with the viewers, would gain some insight and understanding about what is like being white or black in America... WRONG!

The Black family seemed to find negativity in every action or word uttered by the white man and woman.

The white man is still living in wonderland, thinking there is really no racism in America, just lots of misunderstandings from the black people, of course.

The white woman did accept being treated "different", on one instance, but whatever she had to say that may have been of substance was overshadoewed by how much of a drama queen she is, so "poetic" and over the top in her delivery.

The white girl seemed to learn something, but she hardly spoke. I don't even remember if the black kids even said something. Maybe the grown ups are too far gone and this "experiment" would have been more succesful with just the kids participating. I don't know.

I do know that I won't waste my time watching these folks bad mouth and second guess each other's intentions throughout this show, cuz I already know, in the end, they learned or understood NOTHING about each other's race. Pretty depressing, no thank you.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Courtesy of: CNN, ENTERTAINMENT

Trading races

Wednesday, March 1, 2006; Posted: 7:55 a.m. EST (12:55 GMT)

story.black.white.gi.jpg

Ice Cube, center, poses with Carmen, Bruno and Rose Wurgel, left, and Brian and Renee Sparks.

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- When writer John Howard Griffin turned his skin from white to dark and traveled the South in 1959 for a firsthand look at the depths of racism, he relied on a simple medical treatment and his wits.

In the 21st century, such a journey requires Hollywood makeup wizardry, the well-honed conventions of both reality TV and documentary filmmaking, and two families, one black, one white, acting as undercover race detectives in Southern California.

As superficially different as FX Networks' "Black.White." and Griffin's landmark book "Black Like Me" appear to be, they are brothers under the skin.

"Black.White." proceeds with open-minded seriousness as it leads viewers to a conclusion both obvious and powerful: race counts, for better and worse. Expressions of racism and racial identity change, but that bedrock truth remains.

"I didn't realize, more than anything, how hard it was going to be for whites and blacks to see the world through each other's eyes," said executive producer R.J. Cutler. "I didn't realize how genuinely different an experience it is to be a white American and a black American."

Cutler insisted the six-episode show, which begins March 8 on FX, doesn't "aspire in any way to say definitive things about race." But the participants and their actions do.

In a Los Angeles-area house, "Black.White." brings together Bruno Marcotulli, 47, his wife, Carmen Wurgel, 48, and her daughter Rose Bloomfield, 18, a white family from Santa Monica, California, and Brian Sparks, 41, wife Renee, 38, and their son, Nick, 17, a black Atlanta family.

Through artful makeup they swap races, if not perspectives.

"You see what you want to see," Marcotulli says at one point to Brian Sparks, dismissing Sparks' experiences with prejudice.

"And you don't see what you don't want to see," a frustrated Sparks replies.

Cutler, whose documentary films and TV series include the acclaimed "The War Room" and "American High," was joined by Ice Cube, the rapper, actor and producer, on the project proposed by FX Networks President John Landgraf.

"Don't believe the hype, everything in the world ain't black and white. Everybody ain't a stereotype. Just because I look wrong I'm about to do right," Cube sings in the title song, which also includes his sharp rejection of an oft-cited phrase: "Did you get your race card? Yo, what the hell is a race card?"

His hope for the project was to "expose the subtleties of racism, the layers of racism," the musician told The Associated Press. "Everybody thinks of a Klan man standing with a shotgun, yelling, 'Keep it white.'

"Everybody is worried about the guy with the black power, leather jacket on, Afro ... worried about those kind of people and not really knowing that racism is not just the obvious," Cube said.

The series' timing is notable, with race brought into renewed focus by Katrina and the disproportionate suffering it caused for blacks in New Orleans. But "Black.White." was conceived before the hurricane, Landgraf said.

He brought the idea of having two families trade races to Cutler, stressing that he wasn't looking for cheap conflict.

"I said, 'This is not cheesy, this is not about putting a white bigot ... in with black people and watching them beat the crap out of each other and watching sparks fly," Landgraf recalled. "And it certainly wasn't about some kind of makeup-driven freak show."

The families in "Black.White." are middle-class, the adults all college-educated. They received a modest fee for their participation, an FX spokesman said.

With special-effects makeup by Keith Vanderlaan and Brian Sipe that artfully used wigs, airbrushed skin paint and other elements, the families were transformed to a new ethnicity that could pass muster in varied settings.

Teenager Rose joined a poetry group with young blacks; Brian Sparks became a bartender at a place drawing white customers. The families also, in the best tradition of reality TV, shared a house in 2005 for the six weeks of production. Cutler "wanted the families to live together, because a lot of discussion would be generated in each family coaching the other family on what it is to be white or to be black, and to pass or behave or act as white or black," Landgraf said.

Wurgel makes what she considers a black fashion statement, buying an ethnic African shirt for church, while Renee Sparks looks askance.

The housemates have revealing, sometimes heated clashes over their attitudes on race and the use of volatile epithets. One confrontation pits the black father, adamantly opposed to the "n-word," against his unconcerned teenage son.

For his part, Marcotulli consistently clings to his belief that any individual can erase bias by dint of sheer will and optimism.

Outside the house, attitudes are mostly, but not always, subtly expressed. In black makeup, Rose gets the brushoff when she applies for work at stores in a white area. One shopkeeper glances in a drawer and unconvincingly announces she's out of job applications.

Sitting in as a white woman on a focus group discussion on race, Renee Sparks is shocked to hear a young college student relate how he was cautioned to wash off the handshake of a black person.

"I thought, here it is, 2005, and people are still teaching their kids this," Sparks said in a recent interview with reporters.

Larry E. Davis, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems, lauds the series' concept. "Black Like Me" was a powerful work in its day; projects like "Black.White." have potential value for now, he said.

"It will bring (issues of race) into a context and a time frame and a reality that a new generation can comprehend, can relate to and understand," Davis said. The goal is to "keep hammering away, hammering way, hammering away at the problem."

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Couresy of: TV GUIDE, THE WATERCOOLER

Black. White.

I give the Wurgels and the Sparks major credit for taking part in a social experiment for all the world to see, but talk about showing your true colors! The real star of the show, of course, is the makeup crew. Wow! To their credit is the fact that lily-white Rose was able to pass for a black teenager in front of a def poetry group

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Courtesy of: ZAP2IT

FX series does an about-face on facts

When 'Black.White.' pilot airs, two vignettes are amended based on participants' protests.

By Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times

March 10 2006

22307336.jpg

Rose Wurgel of 'Black. White.'

Producers of FX's "Black.White.," under fire by some of the projects' participants claiming the heavily touted "documentary" series contains several misrepresentations and creative manipulations, tweaked a few of those contested details during its premiere broadcast Wednesday.

The cable network show revolves around the black Sparks family and the white Wurgel family, who switch races through the magic of movie industry-caliber makeup. The families are shown experiencing life in another person's skin.

In the pilot of the six-week series, defined by FX Network's president and general manager, John Landgraf, as a documentary despite its reality show elements, a driving range where Brian Sparks, disguised as a white man, hits golf balls is identified as being at an "all-white country club" in Pasadena. Sparks is later shown buying shoes at what is presumably the course's pro shop.

Following a preview of the show on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last month that contained the golf sequence, Alan Amitin, an attorney for the John Wells Golf Shop, told FX and the filmmakers that the driving range and the golf store shown were in different locations. The shop is located at the Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena, a public facility where many blacks play, he said, while the driving range was in Burbank. He alleged that the segment portrayed his client as racist, saying the depiction was inflammatory and asked them in a written demand to excise those references.

When the pilot aired Wednesday, the location of the driving range was changed from Pasadena to Burbank, and the "all-white country club" reference was deleted.

Another sequence in the pilot involved teenager Rose Wurgel, who enrolls in an all-black slam poetry class in Hollywood run by veteran spoken-word artist Poetri and his wife, Juren Smith. The pilot does not disclose that the couple was aware from the beginning that Rose was white.

In the broadcast version, a voice-over by Rose was inserted in which she explains that the couple is aware she is white.

FX executives said they were pleased by the audience the show attracted, which fell just shy of 4 million viewers.

A spokesman for FX said the show was currently being described as an "unscripted series," and that the pilot screened for TV journalists and several groups around the country, including the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, should have been labeled as a "rough cut." Project developer R.J. Cutler did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The spokesman did not know of any future changes regarding additional concerns cited by anyone associated with the series.

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Courtesy of: TV GUIDE, THE WATERCOOLER

Black. White.

"Beautiful black creature"... not a bad way to describe a racehorse, or maybe your neighbor's black Lab, but a human being you've just met? Poor Carmen. Even Bruno was shaking his head when she let loose with that one. You just know her intentions are golden

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Courtesy of: TV GUIDE, THE WATERCOOLER

Black. White.

Aaaah, good for Carmen. She's making progress. Last week she's calling a black woman a creature, and now look at her. She's marching into the heart of Los Angeles' black community as a white woman seeking acceptance. Pretty bold move considering everyone on camera (and probably off) is shaking their heads and basically saying, "Yes, we know you'd like to buy the world a coke, and teach the world to sing

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Courtesy of: TV GUIDE, THE WATERCOOLER

Black. White.

Two episodes left and it's been a really interesting ride so far. We've seen the Wurgel women, Rose and Carmen, come to some pretty profound conclusions about what it means to be both black and white. We've watched Nick shed his teenage apathy in exchange for an awareness of the subtle and not so subtle racism around him. We've witnessed the preferential treatment that Brian enjoys by masking his true color. And, of course, we've seen everybody and their sister try to shake loose Bruno's preconceived notions about race

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  • 2 weeks later...
You know what, I was watching a DVD (LiLo and Stitch: Stitch has a Glitch) and in the previews before it they had that Movie Surfers thing or whatever and I thought that was Rose. I liked the show, I thought it was interesting to see how these people went through life as the opposite race, but if they are in fact actors, that kind of takes something out of it. At the very least, people will not think that their experiences were genuine.
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