Collateral Beauty stars well-known actor Will Smith in a silent effort to present diversity in a still rather homogenous industry. Collateral Beauty focuses on Howard, a middle-aged advertising executive who is at the apex of the business world when his daughter prematurely dies from a rare form of brain cancer. Heartbroken by his loss, Howard staggers through life a fraction of the prodigious mogul he once was. Determined not be additional victims in Howard’s personal tragedy, his three colleagues hire three actors to personify the abstractions to which Howard writes. The actors/actresses prove successful in prompting a desolate Howard to confront his fears, yet by the end of the movie, the audience must decipher reality from fantasy. The film’s dynamics easily seem both touching and contemplative yet covertly reflect aspects of western culture nurtured as normal. Nevertheless, Smith as a black male and the film’s lead affords the film a depth not achieved in his absence.
Time, love and death compose the movie’s core elements while simultaneously summarizing key elements of all human existence. Howard’s ability to enjoy these elements favorably mark his consummation of an allusive whiteness. This allusion fizzles into a striking reality that follows Howard’s tragedy a tragedy the film presents as personal. However, his personal loss achieves political connotation as his grief illustrates the catalyst for every action in the movie. Collateral Beauty’s depiction of a black parent distressed over the untimely death of their child, comes at a time where an influx of young black bodies lay cold beneath the ground. This grief not only engulfs the lives of individual families who had to bury their children too soon but the black collective who watches from the sidelines as murdered black bodies receive the same injustice after death that they received on earth. The film depicts the collective majority as unable to understand or empathize with black grief. Howard’s colleagues illustrate an inability of the western world to barely empathize with the level of post-traumatic stress affecting the many layers of the black psyche. Simply put, to revel or merely acknowledge the depth of black suffering or the inequity afforded to the daily experience of living while black, foments the collective majority to reevaluate themselves personally and politically— a process too tedious for those nurtured to benefit from the same system that systemically disenfranchises others.
The film illustrates this dynamic in a conversation between Howard’s friends where they remark that it’s “been two years” since his daughter’s death—implying that the necessary time has passed for his wound to heal. This dynamic fuels the efforts of the three supporting characters to expedite Howard’s professional erasure to maintain personal wealth. Black grief as a focal point of the movie unveils the white supporting actors and actresses as unwilling to share the sufferings of blacks beyond a certain point. While holocaust descendants and 9/11 survivors remain encouraged to remember their tragedy, blacks remain seduced into a collective amnesia. Collective amnesia is an under-discussed, covert facet of black inferiority which fuels a journey to an allusive whiteness and the white savior ideology. At the top of his game, Howard achieved an “Oprah-effect” where blacks achieving conventional success denotes an acquisition of allusive whiteness. This acquisition advances the black body as a pedestal for his or her white counterpart to stand. Just as The Oprah Winfrey Show served as a platform for the now esteemed shows and presence of Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, Howard’s fomented conventional successful for his three colleagues, all of whom share his desire for an allusive whiteness but none of whom share his ancestry. Thus, it is not grief that distances him from his friends— he was always distant. This distance just proved less significant when his black body was a tool for their climb towards success.
Furthermore, the collateral beauty referenced in the film does indeed lie in tragedy. For misfortune reveals what happiness hides—truth. Tragedy revealed that Howard’s grief was merely a nuisance to those who benefited from his constructed happiness. Similarly, western society holds awareness collateral to achieve “beauty” in the form of conventional attributes. However, tragedy exposes this beauty as solely the blissful ignorance that exists solely to veil the intricacies of systemic oppression.