Black and White (2002 film)

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Black And White
Black and White (2002 film) poster.jpg
Directed by Craig Lahiff
Produced by Helen Leake
Nik Powell
Written by Louis Nowra
Starring Robert Carlyle
Charles Dance
Kerry Fox
David Ngoombujarra
Colin Friels
Music by Cezary Skubiszewski
Edited by Lee Smith
Distributed byNew Vision Films
Release date
31 October 2002 (Australia)
Running time
99 minutes
Box officeA$177,866 (Australia) [1]

Black and White is a 2002 Australian film directed by Craig Lahiff and starring Robert Carlyle, Charles Dance, Kerry Fox, David Ngoombujarra, and Colin Friels. Louis Nowra wrote the screenplay, and Helen Leake and Nik Powell produced the film. The film won an Australian Film Institute award in 2003 for David Ngoombujarra as Best Actor in a Supporting Role.



Based on real events, it tells the story of Max Stuart (Ngoombujarra), a young aboriginal man who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of the murder of a nine-year-old girl on what was considered questionable evidence. It follows the fight by his lawyers David O'Sullivan (Carlyle) and Helen Devaney (Fox) to save Stuart from execution, as well as Crown Prosecutor, Roderic Chamberlain's (Dance) efforts to convict Stuart. Rohan Rivett editor of an Adelaide paper, The News , and its publisher, Rupert Murdoch (Ben Mendelsohn) also feature as leading the public response in the campaign to save Stuart.

In the final scene of the film, Max Stuart appeared as himself as an older man, driving along a dirt highway near Alice Springs where he lived at the time, and saying: "Yeah, some people think I'm guilty and some people think I'm not. Some people think Elvis is still alive, but most of us think he's dead and gone." [2]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 43% based on reviews from 7 critics. [3]

"Like many of the landmark Australian films of the past thirty years, films such as Sunday Too Far Away, Breaker Morant … Black And White is firmly rooted in fact. There are fascinating twists and turns in Black And White and purely as entertainment the film offers an engaging human drama and a rich display of acting talent – the cast is huge. But Black And White seeks to make its mark as an important statement about our history as well. The Australian legal system was profoundly tested, and changed, by the Max Stuart case and for anyone concerned about the kind of society we’re building, it’s essential information." □ Peter Thompson's Film Reviews, ninemsn, 3 November 2002

"It’s one helluva great yarn for starters, and the sort of film Australia should be making. It slices open the social (black) heart of this society merely 50 years ago, to reveal it as not only racist and sexist but class-driven to boot. Stories of great injustice done to individuals by society are powerful cinema, and this story combines court room drama with a Big Issue. Bit like Erin Brockovich in a way, complete with small town underdog for a lawyer. (It’s about the only time lawyers can look good on screen.) Craig Lahiff and his production team do a sterling job in capturing the sense of the era, and the mood is poignantly carried on Cezary Szkubiszewski’s wonderful score. Lahiff squeezes top performances from all his leads, with Carlyle and Dance perfectly cast as opposites in every way." □ Andrew Urban, Urban Cinefile 2002 [4]

"A powerful emotive film for all Australians, Black and White doesn’t make a judgement as to Stuart’s innocence or guilt, it cleverly leaves that to you, the viewer. It bundles up all the emotions from that by-gone era and creates a feast for the mind and a visual delight. "Black and White" forces you to think, to ponder on the facts, to take sides and believe me you will. "Black and White" is another notch in the belt for the Australian film industry." - Insight, October 2002

It had a wide theatrical release in the UK, and earned the praise of numerous critics and press.

"A gripping, well-crafted tale, lovingly made from the terrific period detail up, and its urgent plea for tolerance is as pertinent as ever." □ Neil Smith, Total Film, UK [5]

"Powerful and intriguing drama" □ Sunday Mirror, 11 January 2004

"Black and White is a superior drama – tense, unpredictable, full of intriguing characters and well acted. The story deserves to be told because it is about so much more than the crime itself" - Sunday Express, 18 January 2004

"What elevates Black and White above any of its genre is the way in which it establishes the absolute integrity of the two players… It is required viewing for all those who hold justice dear and fear for its fragile hold upon the law. … (It is) a challenging film that dares to trust our intelligence" - John Cooper, The Times, 9 December 2003.

"Based on true events, this deeply involving film is not only a terrific story but it’s also very timely in the issues it examines. .. Lahiff’s film is beautifully assembled to tell the story clearly and fairly. It grabs hold of us from the very beginning.. This is a great story nicely told." - Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall 20 November 2003 "this superb production continues the Australian tradition of fine movie-making… director Craig Lahiff’s beautifully shot drama is a thoroughly absorbing treat" - Daily Mirror, 9 January 2004

"this watchable fictionalisation … (has) an engrossing story to tell, and it’s interestingly ambiguous where another sort of film might have been content with PC certainty... a dark horse of a film" - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 9 January 2004[ citation needed ] Philip French called the film "heavy handed". [6]


In 2003, the film won the Australian Film Institute award for Best Actor in Supporting Role.


Sydney Film Festival 2002 (opening film)
Toronto IFF 2002
London IFF 2002
Hawaii IFF 2002 Gala
Pusan Korea IFF 2002
London Australian Film Festival 2003
Dublin FF 2003
Taipei FF 2003
Valenciennes FF France 2003 Competition
Belfast FF 2003
Taos FF USA 2003
Singapore IFF 2003
Karlovy Vary IFF 2003
Beijing Australian Film Festival 2004
Guangzhou FF 2004
Cancun FF 2004
Australian Embassy Roadshow – multiple countries

See also

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  1. "Australian Films at the Australian Box Office", Film Victoria Archived 9 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine accessed 11 November 2012
  2. Penelope Debelle (2002). "Max Stuart reflects, finds peace". The Age . Retrieved 21 February 2006.
  3. "Black and White (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved 1 January 2021.
  4. Andrew Urban. "BLACK AND WHITE". Urban Cinefile. Archived from the original on 24 December 2002.
  5. "Black And White review". Total Film. January 2004.
  6. Philip French (11 January 2004). "Other films: Cruise round the Orient". The Guardian.