FX’s Black. White. debuts tonight

In an episode of Diff’rent Strokes that aired Feb. 20, 1980, Dana Plato, as Kimberly Drummond, dresses in blackface after she “discovers her new friend is a bigot,” as TV.com says. Today, a little more than 26 years later, producers RJ Cutler and Ice Cube use that same idea for their new FX show Black. White., which debuts tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

On the show, which has its own MySpace page, the Sparks, “a middle class black family from Georgia,” and the Wurgels, “a white liberal family from California,” literally trade races thanks to makeup and then move into a house together.

The results are, to say the least, somewhat controversial. Bruno Marcotulli, apparently given the last name of Wurgel for the show, tells the Hollywood Reporter, “I’m not saying that I know what African-Americans go through on a daily basis, and I’m not stupid; I know racism exists. I just don’t believe it’s as pervasive as we’re routinely led to believe. And I think discrimination can be something you bring on yourself.” As the paper says, that attitude leads to “a lot of hostile energy [from the Sparks] in an exasperated attempt to enlighten Bruno and his girlfriend Carmen, whom they found utterly clueless.”

The LA Times accuses the show, however, of not being accurate. Although RJ Cutler tells the paper his “goal is to tell a story, to tell the experience that these people had over the course of six weeks, and tell those stories as truthfully as possible, the conflicts they had,” the paper says there are “questions of truthfulness and misrepresentations.” The chief complaint, however, is that “the show’s point of view — the perspective of the families — was edited, much like a reality show, to focus on the most confrontational elements.”

Hello, LA Times: That’s what reality TV shows—and documentaries—do. Otherwise, they’d be hundreds of hours long. The bigger problem is if editors deliberately manipulate footage rather than just leave something out, and that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

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