Interview: Mike Binder on Black or White

 

By Scott Holleran

Racial conflict and harmony is at the center of Mike Binder’s new movie, Black or White, which is scheduled for national release on January 30 (read my review here).

The film begins with the loss of an interracial child’s grandmother, which triggers a custody battle between the child’s grandfather (Kevin Costner, JFK) and other grandmother (Octavia Spencer, Snowpiercer). The girl’s mother had died in childbirth. As with writer and director Binder’s biting The Upside of Anger (2005), which also co-starred Kevin Costner, there is more to the story, including a cast of pivotal characters, a plot twist and a blend of comedy and drama. Like The Upside of Anger, this movie examines alcohol as rationalization. Add to this the matter of race.

I first saw Black or White in the aftermath of escalating racial tension in the Midwest. I saw the film again as race riots broke out in Ferguson, Missouri. Now, with charges of racism in Hollywood amid the supposed ‘snub’, as many in the media put it, of Best Picture Oscar nominee Selma, race is again at issue. Binder (Indian Summer, Reign Over Me), a thoughtful and deliberate filmmaker from Detroit who started his career as an actor and comedian, seeds his movies with dry humor in service of serious themes. So, I knew he might be inclined to grant an interview about this unusual and daring new film, which premiered in 2014 at the Toronto Film Festival, is backed by Kevin Costner and distributed by Relativity. When I asked, he said yes.

The result is a freewheeling, wide-ranging, yet highly detailed, discussion of Black or White, which introduces Jillian Estell as the child, Eloise, and also features Mpho Koaho, Paula Newsome, Bertha Bindewald, Bill Burr, Jennifer Ehle (The King’s Speech), Andre Holland (Selma42) and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: The Winter SoldierThe Hurt Locker). The interview took place in Santa Monica, California. This is an edited transcript.


 

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What’s the single most rewarding response you’ve received regarding your new movie Black or White?

MIKE BINDER: I’ll tell you—and it’s not a short answer. When we started testing this movie, and we started with a white audience in Pasadena, my wife and I saw that when Kevin [Costner] made his courtroom speech, it got applause. And I thought, I loved that the audience loved that speech but it’s not going to happen next week in Inglewood. The next week, when we went to Inglewood and played it to an all-black audience, it got a bigger applause. I thought I had lost confidence in myself because I had thought that people are not [fundamentally] that different and everyone is going to understand what that speech means when the white audience in Pasadena applauded—

SCOTT HOLLERAN: —because in that moment you became self-conscious about being white?

MIKE BINDER: Yes. So, in that moment when the movie got applause from an all-black audience, I thought, OK, I was right—people are not monolithic, people are not sheep. People think for themselves and they think much more alike—white people and black people—we are much more Americans than we are white or black and, flawed or not flawed, we are so much more similar than we think we are.  So that was a great moment for me.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What’s the single most important image in your movie?

MIKE BINDER: I think it’s probably when [Kevin Costner’s character is] standing in his dining room during the pool party when he’s watching [the Octavia Spencer character’s family swimming in his pool] and realizing that he might lose [custody of] the little girl and he might be isolated by himself—you realize that his biggest fear is that he might lose the last connection to his [late] wife and his [late] daughter. That’s what this movie is about. That’s what Kevin got right away. This movie has a racial thread to it and interesting things to say about race. But this is a movie about family bonds and what you lose and gain by really loving someone. This girl is all he’s got left. If she goes, he’s got nobody. He’s 60 years old and he’s built his family for himself and, one by one, they’ve all been taken away from him. That scares the hell out of him.

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Mike Binder and Kevin Costner

SCOTT HOLLERAN: He faces the prospect of oncoming loneliness—

MIKE BINDER: Not just loneliness—emptiness. It’s having something you built and had and loved, one by one, taken away—his family. [The character Elliott] built a beautiful family and the one thing he’s holding onto is being taken away—

SCOTT HOLLERAN: But Elliott did not build the family in the whole sense. There’s a scene in which he refuses to see Rowena [Octavia Spencer] and Reggie [Andre Holland, Selma] as family—

MIKE BINDER: —You’re right. My wife has this wonderful idea that love always multiplies, it never divides. It’s a great idea and she says it to me and the kids all the time. I think that [Kevin Costner’s character] is a fear-based guy. He’s lost a lot and he’s building walls around him and the girl, so you’re right—you’re absolutely right. He should have built a much surer pathway to [Octavia Spencer’s character]. When my wife and I were involved in raising our nephew as a young boy, we welcomed anyone in the family. Any participation from his cousins and grandmother was great for us. We wanted to be around them and we didn’t have a problem for that reason. But this character doesn’t do that. On that level, you’re absolutely right.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Well, it’s [Octavia Spencer’s character] Rowena who’s right because, as she tells the Kevin Costner character, he never really invites her into his home.

MIKE BINDER: Yes. She tells him [at his wife’s memorial service] that their granddaughter’s got all kinds of family right here, so what she’s really saying is: so do you. But when he goes [to Rowena’s home]—and this is the other side of it—they know him, they’re warm to him, they know him to be a good guy, so obviously there was a time, probably when his wife was alive, when they had a very cordial relationship. This is not a movie about a white guy that doesn’t want black people in his life. It’s a movie about a scared, hurt, angry guy that doesn’t want anyone in his life that he can’t control.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: That goes to my next question. Your movies tend to portray damaged individuals seeking salvation from relationships based on shared values. Is unity a theme in your work?

MIKE BINDER: I do think that might be a common theme because it’s something I believe in. I really believe that waters need to flow into other waters. Just sitting by itself it’s a stagnant pond. I always say that anytime I’m by myself I’m in a bad neighborhood—I need to be with people. People bring the light out in me. When I’m spending too much time by myself, I’m in a bad crowd. All the thoughts in my head—and maybe this is because I’m a recovered alcoholic—I need to be around people in my life. If you want to know who someone is, find out who they spend time with.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Is Kevin Costner’s character a racist?

MIKE BINDER: No, this character is not a racist. His problem is not with the fact that people are black. First of all, he’s very angry, so his problem is that he [feels that he] needs to protect this little girl. He never does anything in any situation in the movie that he doesn’t think is in her best interest. For example, when [her father] Reggie, the one guy [Costner’s character] doesn’t want around her, comes back around and says ‘give me some money and I’ll go away’, [Costner’s character] knows that that’s the absolute worst thing for the girl. When he reaches for the wallet, he says [to Reggie], you get yourself out to my house and bring a present and some flowers, that’s what [your daughter] needs. It’s not what he wants—he wants this guy gone—he’s looking out for her.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Is Octavia Spencer’s character, Rowena, flawed?

MIKE BINDER: Yes. She doesn’t want to admit that her son has a drug problem and is a violent, erratic guy—and [Costner’s character] doesn’t feel safe for that reason. If her son were either sober or dead, [Costner’s character] would have no problem with shared custody. His problem is that he knows Rowena and he’s right. As soon as Reggie comes back, her brother [Anthony Mackie] says ‘we need to stick with shared custody because Reggie’s not the right guy’ and Rowena rejects that—as good as she is, as well-rounded as she is, she will force her son and the granddaughter together because she thinks that her son being in his daughter’s life will force him to be good and [Costner’s character] knows that Reggie has to heal himself and it’s not the responsibility of a little girl to be the piece that fills his soul. Reggie’s got a hole in his soul and Rowena wants it to be filled by Eloise. As screwed up as [Costner’s character] is, he knows better.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: That’s what I mean about a common theme of unity. Your movies—Reign Over Me, The Upside of Anger, Indian Summer—involve human puzzles that gradually, disparately come together. There’s usually a missing piece and your films depict the coming together.

MIKE BINDER: I don’t watch my movies and I don’t think about them after I make them. I’ve never seen Indian Summer, not since I finished making it. After Black or White comes out, I’ll never watch it again.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Was Black or White shot in Los Angeles?

MIKE BINDER: No. New Orleans. We shot some second unit photography in L.A.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Is Kevin Costner the reason this movie is being released?

MIKE BINDER: Yes. It’s certainly not Mike Binder.

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Writer and director Mike Binder (left) and Kevin Costner (right) on Black or White set

 

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Did seeing Mr. Costner’s earlier pictures influence your direction and, if so, how?

MIKE BINDER: No. Because I’m a writer, not just a director, the script influences the performance. There’s a script, then the cast and crew come to the set and I don’t say much. It’s all on the page. The good actors understand that. On the set, I’ll ask if they want to try that again—but not much more than that. As a kid, when I was an actor, I worked with [writer and director] Barry Levinson on a [television] pilot based on his [1982] movie Diner. He told me, ‘if I cast well, I don’t have to really do much as a director.” And that’s what I really feel. I feel that I have to get the script and cast right and that’s it. As a director, on set, I’m just there cheerleading. I don’t really direct Kevin Costner. I’m 56. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve come to realize—especially when working with great actors—that I need to just get the hell out of the way. Don’t ask about old work. Let great actors build the characters. They’re really good at it. Directors don’t build characters. Anything you read about the directors I admire, such as Barry Levinson, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, even Cameron Crowe, shows that they know that the [director’s] job is not to overdo the job.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What’s your favorite Kevin Costner movie?

MIKE BINDER: Field of Dreams. It’s such a great fable. It’s so American to me. I love the speech about baseball that James Earl Jones gives. I love Burt Lancaster talking about Moonlight Graham. I could watch those scenes over and over and over again.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Did you see Man of Steel?

MIKE BINDER: Yes. I didn’t care for that movie. It put me to sleep. It was just a big, boring, dull movie.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What’s your favorite Barry Levinson movie?

MIKE BINDER: Tin Man, maybe Avalon. There’s a moment in Avalon that’s just wonderful, when the man sits down in his chair and he wakes up and 20 years have gone by and the imagery is just, just—I think he’s one of the most underrated guys in cinema.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Speaking of imagery, why do you linger on the sunrise over Los Angeles in Black or White?

MIKE BINDER: Which one? At the end, it’s to show a new day—a brand new day to figure things out.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Is the Anthony Mackie character racist?

MIKE BINDER: No. He’s a realist. Everyone in this movie uses the race card as a tool and nothing else. They don’t believe it—it’s not real to them. The only note I gave Anthony Mackie is to take a look at James Mason in The Verdict—he’s a sly fox. I think he’s one brilliant, sly fox. And, to Mpho Koaho [pronounced M-poe Kay-hoe], who plays the tutor, I said ‘take a look at Peter Sellers in Being There in terms of creating a completely different character than yourself and not seeing the seams. That’s it. There’s no more.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: You talked about a laissez-faire approach to acting and leaving actors alone. What have you learned about casting in 20 years of making movies?

M. That you’ve got to cast right. I look for an intelligence in actors. I look for whether the guy’s smart enough to get the job done for me. I knew instinctively that Andre Holland was the right guy to play Reggie because he’s a trained Shakespearean actor—he’s an incredibly intelligent man—I didn’t want Reggie to be a street punk and a racist because he had no other choice. I wanted Reggie to be someone who could have been a lawyer like his uncle [Anthony Mackie] or a novelist or a painter or a musician like his sister—drugs and alcohol brought him down. I needed a guy who started from a place where Andre Holland started.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What pain is Andre Holland’s character medicating?

MIKE BINDER: He lost his father when he was very young. But a good alcoholic doesn’t need a reason to medicate. The world is too brittle for them.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What drives Rowena?

MIKE BINDER: Family. She reminds me of my wife, Diane. Everything to her is about getting comfortable enough to shower family with love.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Had you seen Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station when you cast her as Rowena?

MIKE BINDER: No. But I have seen it since. I love that movie. It’s one of my favorite movies from that year. She’s great in that movie in a very simple way—she chose to use very short strokes and she paints them in bigger, longer strokes in Black or White. She paints it a little broader in Black or White and I just think that’s her range.

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Binder, Costner and Octavia Spencer (right) on Black or White set

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you seen her in Snowpiercer?

MIKE BINDER: Yes. I think she’s got a great range.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Is there a scene in which Octavia Spencer improvised?

MIKE BINDER: Yes. There’s a great scene that made the trailer. Rowena is with Eloise, who’s showing her grandmother her drawings and Rowena asks ‘how about the skinny [figure]? Is that me?’ and Eloise says ‘no’ and Rowena says, ‘oh, well. It’s not my favorite.’ She improvised that whole bit.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What did Anthony Mackie contribute to his characterization?

MIKE BINDER: His intelligence. He’s not only street smart, Mackie’s people and world smart. I’ve traveled with him and we’re friends and we went to play golf and watch the Tigers play in Detroit and he knows his [stuff]. He brought that to Jeremiah. He was not a clueless guy. I haven’t seen him as the Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I had seen him in We Are Marshall, though the first time I really noticed him is in The Hurt Locker.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What’s the biggest laugh line or scene?

MIKE BINDER: Probably the tutor on the witness stand showing the judge his papers—that’s always a huge laugh. Also, Elliott [Costner’s character] getting in the wrong car. Black and white audiences both see this as the same movie—there’s no racial difference in where there’s laughter.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: The staring contest scene between Rowena and the judge is also humorously received in my experience—and you gave a depth to the judge character.

MIKE BINDER: Again, that’s casting. Paula Newsome, who was also in Reign Over Me, is amazing. She really knows what she’s doing. I really like her a lot—I like that she can dig a lot of comedy and pathos.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you seen and how do you appraise Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

MIKE BINDER: I haven’t seen it since I was like 14 years old—that was so long ago. If I really went back, I’m sure I would love his films but I’m not a guy who goes back and watches them again. I loved them all when I was a kid. I haven’t seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in years.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you seen and how do you appraise Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement?

MIKE BINDER: Again, it’s been so long. I did watch it again and it is a fantastic movie that holds up really well. Peck’s performance is one of his best because it’s the anguish, not a showy role. It’s about his character thinking how do I get out of this and do the right thing?

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you seen and how do you appraise Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia?

MIKE BINDER: I loved it when it came out [in 1993]. Race plays a big role in that too. But here’s the thing—you asked a good question and maybe this is a flaw of mine. I really would like to make a movie a year where my body of work would reveal something to me about who I am—but I don’t really think about [past] movies that much. I don’t overthink and maybe I underthink some of this stuff. I don’t know any other way to do it. I think a lot of these filmmakers are maybe a little deeper than I am. There’s a great comedian’s line that ‘deep, deep, deep down, he’s incredibly shallow’. Honestly, that’s probably me. I’m not even that deep down. I don’t go back, though The Verdict is a movie that I watched recently. The scene with Kevin Costner’s character’s law office in Black or White is an homage to a scene in The Verdict. When I was writing Black or White, I thought this would have been a great role for Paul Newman [who starred in The Verdict].

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Kevin Costner’s Elliott in Black or White is a lot like Paul Newman’s Sully in Robert Benton’s Nobody’s Fool

MIKE BINDER: Yes, Robert Benton is another one of those great directors. I love Places in the Heart.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: You say you’re not deep—

MIKE BINDER: I’m not. I’m not even that well read.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What’s your favorite book?

MIKE BINDER: Probably The World According to Garp by John Irving.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you seen and how do you appraise Lasse Hallström’s The Cider House Rules (1999) based on John Irving’s novel?

MIKE BINDER: I loved it—I loved it. By the way, I really like Lasse Hallström’s films a lot, too. His first movie, My Life as a Dog, I just love. I love that movie.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: These are all movies that touch on themes in Black or White, though it may not be obvious. The lost child in The Cider House Rules is represented in Black or White, too. We haven’t talked about Jillian Estell, who portrays the granddaughter Eloise. It’s a subtle thread throughout the movie that there’s a lost girl in this story who feels loved and wants to be loved—it’s her story, too. Did that help you when you were creating and editing the story?

MIKE BINDER: She’s the pot of gold—it’s always the pot of gold—and it’s really about how do you keep the pot of gold safe? She’s conflicted but you see what she wants in her drawing—she wants the family to come together.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have any of the black members of the cast expressed concerns in the wake of the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury decisions?

MIKE BINDER: No. But I haven’t spoken to them. The three I’m in contact with are Mpho, Mackie and Octavia and these are not race-centric people. I’m really not a race-centric or Jewish-centric person. I don’t walk around thinking how does this affect the Jews and it’s good the Jews—I’ve had black friends for whom everything was about being black or white. But Octavia Spencer is a woman who is [foremost] a woman. Yes, she’s black but it’s not the defining [trait] and Anthony Mackie is the same way—although, I’m sure they are completely affected by Ferguson and New York—I’m just saying I don’t have those kinds of relationships with them. We’re artists that have worked together. That’s the overriding thing.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: As a straight white male, are you privileged?

MIKE BINDER: [Pauses] Am I privileged? [Pauses] Probably. But I don’t think so much that it precludes me from being objective or [detracts from] anything that I have or that I’ve had to work to [earn].

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you been pre-judged for being straight, white and male?

MIKE BINDER: Yes. I can’t get into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS which awards the Oscars]. I’ve applied and been turned down three times but, with as many movies as I’ve done, if I were a young black guy I’d have been in. I’ve totally given up even bothering to apply because they don’t want white guys in their 50s.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: The Academy has been explicit about that fact.

MIKE BINDER: Yes. So, the pendulum is swinging the other way. Has there been a time in this country when there was absolute white privilege? Yes, absolutely. Right now, I actually think a really sharp, smart, energetic young black person is in a great situation in this country right now. I’m not just talking about actors. There are companies and corporations that just really want to bring people of color along right now—it’s an agenda in American life. I don’t believe that there are people that consciously think that black people don’t matter. I really believe there are a lot of people in this country that really want to move us forward.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: You grew up in Detroit, Michigan?

MIKE BINDER: I grew up in Detroit. Then, we moved to Birmingham, Michigan.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: So, growing up in Michigan, were you aware of Henry Ford’s legacy of creating the black middle class by employing blacks at Ford Motor Company?

MIKE BINDER: Yes, I was, because I read about Ford and I understood that there was a time when [black] people came north to find a better life, the same way you see people coming over the Mexican border. I read Robert Lacey’s biography of Henry Ford when I was young. So, as a Detroiter, I was interested in that. But also the history of Detroit. I loved the city and I was told very early on that it was a shadow of its former self. I would see pictures and I was also aware that Ford was also an anti-semite and there’s a part of me that never completely believes when I read something like that because I don’t think people are that cut and dried—but it’s probably true and it’s the era he was in. You can’t judge people [from the past] by today’s standards. We’re in a different time. That’s the proof that things have gotten better. I grew up in the city of Detroit and my father grew up in Detroit at a time when blacks and whites never mixed and he would talk to me about that all the time. I always go back to what President Obama said when he was asked about race relations in this country. And he said that our kids are better than Michelle and I so my kids are better than me and I’m better than my father and that’s what this movie is about. I loved 12 Years a Slave. I’m sure I’ll enjoy Selma. But they’re backwards thinking. I want to be forward thinking. Where do we go from here? That’s why I frame the girl as the last image because this movie is about our children, whether they’re biracial or not, what is the message we’re going to send about getting along?

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What’s the best movie about race?

MIKE BINDER: I like Do the Right Thing. I think it’s a very honest movie. I liked it; It didn’t pull any punches.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you invited Spike Lee to see Black or White?

MIKE BINDER: No. I don’t want to have anything to do with Spike Lee. I’m not a fan of him as a person—he’s a rabble-rouser and even in his movies he has a ‘look at me’ quality. Do the Right Thing was kind of the last movie of his that didn’t have that quality. The other Spike Lee movie I like is a cop movie with Delroy Lindo.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Do you think Spike Lee will like your movie?

MIKE BINDER: Probably not. But I don’t really care.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: What was the most common objection by studios to your movie?

MIKE BINDER: That it isn’t going to play to black people or white people and that black audiences don’t want to see movies with black and white characters and that white audiences don’t want to see movies with black and white characters.

MV5BMTYyMzE2NTE5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDI3ODI2MzE@._V1_SX214_AL_SCOTT HOLLERAN: Is it too soon for Black or White?

MIKE BINDER: I think people really want to see a movie about races coming together. This is a hot button issue and there are a lot of people that aren’t interested in this at all. I have a friend who says you go where the love is and that’s what I’m trying to do here.  I’m trying to go where the love is with this movie. I know who I am. I know what I want to say and do—and I’m too old to really care [what others think]. There’s this woman who wrote this horrible f—– review on TheWrap.com and I wanted to write this thing and just nail her on Facebook and my wife said to me, don’t do that, and [my wife is] right. By the same token, I don’t need to pull punches in my life. I don’t have a blog, so my Facebook page is [like] my blog and that’s where I say what I think and feel. I wasn’t nice. She accused me of race-baiting and of making the movie as an excuse to use the N word. It’s a horrible word but I don’t need to come up with an excuse for that. The trolls are going to come down from the hill for this movie and I welcome them. Come on down. All it will do is help the movie because there are people on the right and on the left that live an agenda-based existence and see everything through an agenda and don’t really watch things just for the story that the filmmaker or the writer is trying to tell—they’re trying to “fix” it as they watch, saying, how could I make this go the way I think the world should go or the way I think blacks should think, rather than letting a movie play and experiencing the story. By the same token, I keep hearing over and over that we need to have a conversation about race in this country. What [some] people are really saying is that we need to have the conversation about race that I want to have and I don’t want to hear other points of view. And I think that is going to happen—there are people that are just not going to want to watch or support this movie.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Who should not see this movie?

MIKE BINDER: Anybody that thinks they know exactly how everybody feels about race and knows exactly how all black people think and how all white people think—

SCOTT HOLLERAN: —which is not possible—

MIKE BINDER: —which is most liberal writers and a lot of far right opinion-makers. I think that people—we’ll come to a time when people won’t see anyone [exclusively] as a part of monolithic groups. Do you know what I mean? It’s really incredible when you watch cable news and [commentators] say ‘well, this is the problem with white people…’ or ‘this is how black people think…’ There’s just too many of each of us—and everyone thinks completely different. Every one is an individual. [Former professional athlete] Charles Barkley has come out with a completely different opinion [on recent racial incidents and protests] and I know that some people are upset with him. To me, the most important idea that I tried to put in Black or White is that it’s not your first thought that counts—it’s your second or third, fourth or fifth thought and [what matters is] not what you are, if you’re white or black or Hispanic or gay or straight, it’s who you are and how you behave. That’s how I am going to judge you. I’m not going to judge you based on your surface identity. I’m going to judge you based on our interaction and how you’re behaving toward me. It has nothing to do with skin color.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: In other words, to paraphrase what Martin Luther King once said, you judge an individual by the content of his character?

MIKE BINDER: Absolutely. I think that’s how most people see the world—I truly do. [Pauses] Maybe there’s an older generation that needs to die off that only sees people by skin color. But I think most intelligent people in this country—and I think there are a lot more of them than are acknowledged—judge people by the content of their character. That’s what this movie’s about—how we move forward and what’s the future. I wanted to make a forward-thinking movie.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Have you become affected by the Ferguson riots?

MIKE BINDER: I have been affected. I think it’s very sad. By and large, the media and the race-baiters have allowed us to miss the overall lesson that we have to really be talking to young people—not just black and white youths—about their behavior.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: Racism plays a pivotal and redemptive role in your first picture Indian Summer and your pictures often have a twist that indicates the fact that coming together means pulling things apart. Do you see your movies as social commentary?

MIKE BINDER: No. It’s just something that I felt about life. That was just a thread. It’s there to show that Uncle Lou [Alan Arkin’s character] was a flawed guy. We put people on pedestals. We need to remember that they make mistakes, too. But I’m already thinking of my next movie, ‘1958’, and now I’m wondering whether that theme you asked about is in there, too. It’s probably about the loss of innocence and how our behavior affects us and moving past bad behavior. It’s about a young married woman and her husband in 1958. She’s having an affair in a small town and she basically brings on a rash of drama as a result—and it’s a comedy. I do think there’s something in there about America’s loss of innocence.

SCOTT HOLLERAN: You use dry, ironic humor to lull the audience into laughing at the alcoholic in a way that lets the audience discover that life is serious, not funny.

MIKE BINDER: I hate seeing a drama with no laughs. You get so much more done with humor. I’m trying to learn to balance it. Sometimes, I think I’m doing melodrama. My films are not comedies, they’re not dramas, they’re not dramedies. The movie Giant wouldn’t be made today. All About Eve had comedy and drama. Hopefully, in the long run, I’ll know what my movies are.

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