In Black and White (1992), an African-American building manager named Roy tries to form a relationship with a poor, young Russian immigrant named Lisa. After he saves her from a late-night attack by her ex-companion, their lives can't quite mix. Situated in a pre-gentrified Lower East Side, Black and White also follows the artistic charades of their mutual landlord, Atkins, as he callously intervenes between them in order to satisfy his own lust.
The film pivots when Atkins, a middle-aged white man, extorts sex from Lisa in exchange for re-hiring Roy after firing him. Lisa sleeps with Atkins to win Roy's needed income, which he uses to support his invalid father. Her sacrifice doesn't work out: Roy's dad dies suddenly soon afterward. Ultimately, Atkins' directs his sexual appetite toward vulnerable women because it satisfies his eagerness for power, and affirms his self-perceptions of importance.
In the final scene at a lower-east side restaurant, a hired woman in revealing costume shakes and dances her way through the densely packed tables. Roy and Lisa seem despondent; we assume Roy's aware Lisa slept with Aitkins, and both aware that her position of independence throughout the film remains compromised repeatedly because she, too, is nothing but an object to the powerful men around her. Nearly every man in the film has tried to exploit her, except Roy. As the woman dancer gyrates her way to their table, their expressions become fixed in a sick recognition that her spectacular presence symbolizes the base reduction of the culture's fixation on the female body as a surface for exploitation and projection of masculine power. The dancer leans back over Roy's groin, and his composure fails. He violently throws her off him.
They make their way back to Roy's basement apartment. Lisa has been hanging onto Roy's back down the stairs. At his door, instead of kissing her, he turns and enters his apartment. Dejected, Lisa lumbers up the stairs, her face set with resignation and disappointment. Their relationship is impossible. The film ends with the impression that their potential has already expired; indeed, whatever remote possibilities once surfaced in the bizarre innocence of New York's subway tunnels, on their late night bike rides on the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges, or in the gym swimming pool were never possibilities at all. Even among the eclectic sprawling crowds of the Lower East Side, the perverse repercussions of older violations still linger, across geography and time.
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