White premiered at SXSW this year as part of the second season of ITVS’s Future States, a series which includes Ramin Bahrani’s 2010 Short of the Year Winner Plastic Bag (editors note: We covered this season sporadically, featuring the season debut Beholder, and Asparagus).
The film tells the story of one black man’s desperate search for money in a futuristic world where global warming has turned race into a commodity. On a sweltering winter day in New York, a young schoolteacher’s wife goes into early labor, requiring a clinic he can’t afford. This sends him on a quest to find the money by all possible means, including theft and robbery, before deciding to donate his melanin, and thus his race, to get the necessary funds. We are left with the final image of his sacrifice; his bleached hands holding his newborn black daughter.
Strong performances and cinematography add to the urgency and the sense of overpowering heat in this dark new world. The film’s concept of race is both haunting and utterly believable, aided by clever production design, including flyers, posters, and a very disturbing map in the melanin clinic.
While the overall story is clear, the film suffers from a few missed opportunities. On the first viewing I missed some important story points, like the fact that they are supposed to be in New York City in December, which is now 120 degrees because of global warming.
Otherwise it’s a strong and thought-provoking drama that might have you riding your bike to work this week.