'I've seen ugliness': Kevin Costner tackles race and the N-word in 'Black or White'

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By Randee Dawn

Race is not an issue movies confront often, or well. But when Kevin Costner saw the script for "Black or White," a drama about a white man embroiled in a battle for custody of his biracial granddaughter, he knew he had to see it made. Costner is a producer as well as star of the film.

"I couldn't fall out of love with this [story] when I read it," Costner said during his Thursday visit to TODAY. "Same way with something like 'Field of Dreams' ... a little, simple movie, but when I read it, I thought, 'You know, if we pull this off, we could make a classic.'"

Casting himself opposite fellow Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (as the little girl's grandmother) was an easy decision; less easy was the issue of using the N-word in the movie. Others involved with the project suggested that Costner shoot alternate scenes where his character did not use the word, but he stood his ground.

"There's no point in dancing around the subject," Costner told Matt Lauer. "The success of the movie, the enjoyment of the movie is that the words do get said."

It's a word Costner admitted he heard, and used himself, while growing up in Compton, California, in the 1950s. "That word used to be used a lot," he admitted. "Never to somebody's face. I never saw it ever used in anger, but it was used in words like jokes, so I heard that ... even used that word myself as a young person ... I've seen ugliness, for sure."

But today, Costner's hoping that "Black or White" may turn out to be one of those movies that tackles a taboo topic, and word, head-on, and ends up having lasting value.

"You get a chance once in a while to make a movie that can stand the test of time and travel, that's value is above and beyond its opening weekend," he said.

"Black or White" opens in theaters Jan. 30.

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