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Black/white

A new racially-driven reality show puts a controversial spin on a tried-and-true family-swapping formula.
 
 
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A new, six-part reality show called "Black.White" will debut on FX in March.

The show -- created by talented rapper/actor Ice Cube, with acclaimed producer RJ Cutler (of cable's "Freshman Diaries" and "American High," as well as the much ballyhooed '93 Clinton doc "The War Room") -- is still two months from airing, but it's already attracting attention for its premise.

What is the premise? Take a hint from its name. The show puts a new, mildly bizarre spin on a tried-and-true ratings-lovin' formula: members of two very different families "trade places" for two months (see the creepily-named "Wife Swap" and "Trading Spouses").

But in the case of "Black.White," two families -- one Caucasian, one African-American -- will live in a house together, and an acclaimed Hollywood makeup artist will "transform" the black family's skin to white, and vice versa. Then cameras will follow the fams through their daily lives, as well as in their shared home sweet home.

Laughs, tears (and surely loads of drama) TK.

In a New York Post article, Cutler -- the show's co-creator -- explained his hopes that the show will spark dialogue and foster understanding about race in America:

"To me, if you're interested in questions of exploring issues around what America is, where we are and where we're going, you need to be asking those questions in the context of race…We thought this could be pretty remarkable, fertile ground for storytelling."

Cutler also notes, "The relationships between the two families really transcends the issue of makeup, and gets to the core of what it means to be white and black in America."

Hmm. Sounds good, and relevant, and ever so slightly PR spin-ny, to me (what else could one expect from a Hollywood TV producer?). Still, I won't lie -- I'm intrigued by the idea of "Black.White." America is certainly long- overdue on an honest, documentarian portrait of how different ethnicities are treated in this country, from schoolhouse to desk job to day care to grocery store…

For that reason, "Black.White" has the potential to be a TV must-see -- even a milestone, if it's done with sensitivity, grace, and authenticity. But if it's done wrong (c'mon, Ice Cube, baby -- don't let me down), this sort of smoke-and-mirrors pseudo-reality could do little more beyond exploiting and exacerbating the trials of people of color… and further alienating all of us from each other.

Time will tell -- but I'll be watching.

Laura Barcella is AlterNet's front page editor.