Same Kind of Different As Me, a 2006 bestselling, non-fiction book about a difficult friendship between a homeless, black man and a white, art dealer in Texas has been made into a feature film of the same name that will be released February 7 of next year. This kind of movie isn’t usually my thing, but some friends whose taste I trust sent me the trailer to watch, and it sparked a couple of things worth Trailer Talking about.
The “rich, Southern, white family interacts with poor, black people and is changed for the better” narrative is a genre as old as cinema. To briefly name a few, The Good Lie was one of the better, recent films in this vein. The Blind Side and The Help are two of the most popular. Remember the Titans is a variation on this theme, as is The Butler, and, with a little less color saturation, Driving Miss Daisy and Places in the Heart are as well (granted, no one in that last film is wealthy). The great Sidney Poitier was Hollywood’s go-to actor for these kinds of integration/reconciliation films in the 1960s. And The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition (1916), one of the oldest films we have record of made for a black audience starring black actors by black filmmakers, is about a black man who finds a place in a wealthy, white family, and everyone is better off as a result. (The film itself is lost.)
So this basic story that Same Kind of Different As Me tells is an old one, at least as old as cinema itself, and it’s one that we need to keep telling, because the line that runs between black people and white people throughout American history is one that still needs to be erased.
The thing that separates the good films in this genre (read: morally upright) from the bad films (read: morally suspect) is the perspective from which the story is told. When the story is told only from the white character’s perspective, and the black character is marginalized, the film is morally suspect. In many cases, the black character becomes what Spike Lee termed the “magical negro” who exists in the story only to save the white characters in some way, sometimes from a physical threat, other times from a spiritual or moral one. On the other hand, when the film presents the perspectives of both the white and black characters, rounding all of them out, complicating them, their relationships, and the world they live in, the film is morally upright.
So what kind of film will Same Kind of Different As Me be? Of course, we won’t know until we see it in its full form. Movies communicate perspective in a variety of ways. Chiefly, they do this through the use of the camera and editing, literally granting us the visual perspective of their characters, and they do this through the focus of their stories. So Same Kind of Different As Me’s perspective will be a product of the attention it gives each character and how it transmits that attention to the audience.
The trailer feels very focused on the white characters, but there are a couple of shots of Denver Moore’s (Djimon Honshu) backstory. Maybe there’s more of that in the film. Also, trailers are sometimes poor representations of the full film. The Good Lie is told primarily from the perspectives of the Sudanese refugees, for example, though its trailer would have you thinking it’s The Blind Side Redux. Finally, the book Same Kind of Different As Me has been adapted from was written by both Ron Hall and Denver Moore, in both of their voices, so the movie’s source material at least grants that necessary dual perspective. I do hope Same Kind of Different As Me mimics the book’s form, because true reconciliation requires shared perspective. To “love your neighbor as yourself,” you have to know how she or he needs to be loved.
Once again, the film releases February 7, 2017. As always, the trailer is below.