The film centers around Belmont College, a fictitious liberal arts institution in Vermont with a progressive but ethnically disconnected student population. The grounds are pristine and its reputation, untainted and dignified. That is until a series of racial threats target African-American freshman Simon Brick (James), erupting the latent bigotry on campus.
New Dean of Students Sarah Daniels (Parker), a transplant from an inner-city college, finds herself at odds with Belmont’s policy-driven administration with her compassion and idealistic outlook. Daniels is summoned to help investigate the incident, and her decision to alert the police infuriates her colleagues, sparking a damage control campaign to safeguard the college’s image. The situation combusts as their self-serving plan to diversify and bridge the racial divide backfires. When outraged students speak out against the administration, viewing their efforts as insensitive and patronizing, the matter attracts more media attention, and surprising discoveries are revealed. Daniels, traumatized by a past experience that warped her perception of race, is challenged to reflect on her perspectives in a scene that is both controversial and profound.
Sarah Jessica Parker scintillates as the well intentioned Dean of Students, and Mykelti Williamson delivers a solid performance as Aaron Carmichael, the opinionated TV journalist she befriends. Beau Bridges, Miranda Richardson, and Jason Rebhorn do not disappoint, and their portrayals of uptight Deans Burton Strauss, Catherine Kenney, and President Winston Garvey depict a truth that prevails in today’s academia. Paul James, known for his small screen appearances (CSI: Miami, Without a Trace), adds sensitivity as the victimized African-American student. Director Mark Brokaw pulls it all together with an interpretation that is intelligent and beautifully paced.
Spinning Into Butter explores the complexities of racism in a way that stings and liberates. It’s title and story is inspired by the children’s tale “Little Black Sambo”, which metaphorically illustrates how one causes a fuss and leads everyone into a stir for nothing. It is a subtle but acute spin on the lesson-based storyline, with thought provoking elements that really hit home.
Look for its release in select New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. theaters on March 27.
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