When director Steven Spielberg unveils the sequel to Jurassic Park one week from today, moviegoers will meet 10-year-old Kelly Curtis, who becomes a subtle milestone in the way interracial relationships are portrayed on screen.
Kelly (played by Vanessa Lee Chester) is bright and curious, which leads her into the path of a ferocious assortment of dinosaurs.
She also happens to be biracial. Her father, played by Jeff Goldblum, is white. It's a point noted in only one line of dialogue in The Lost World:
"You see any family resemblance here?" documentary filmmaker Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) whispers to another adventurer.
Other than that remark, nothing is mentioned about the child or the African-American heritage of her unseen mother. Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp merely portray a typical father-daughter bond.
Spielberg did not attend last weekend's media tour for The Lost World, the sequel to the 1993 blockbuster. Koepp explained why two children in Michael Crichton's bestseller were condensed into the character of Kelly Curtis, who was originally planned to be Malcolm's mathematics student.
"Then I thought, the movie's about parenting and nurturing (among dinosaurs)," Koepp said. "So, this should apply to the human characters as well as the animal ones. Let's make her his daughter."
Spielberg, who had seen Chester in The Little Princess, had wanted to cast Chester as the math student. But he hesitated casting her as Malcolm's daughter, according to Koepp, because he was concerned that audiences would be confused by the match between Goldblum and Chester.
"Sort of at the same moment we said, "perfect, let's just leave it,'
" Koepp said. "We live in a world where all sorts of different people are together. I like it, it's unusual. You always want something interesting and different in your movie."
Multiracial romances have been fairly evident in films, but the topic of multiracial children is a rare movie issue. Usually, the scenario is portrayed with mediocre comedy (Made in America, Carbon Copy) or angst-filled drama (last year's Secrets and Lies).
The understated presentation employed by Spielberg and Koepp is unusual, especially in the midst of an action-adventure yarn geared toward summertime movie tastes.
Family counselor Randy Rolfe says the filmmaker's approach is a positive step for our society's outlook on multiracial relationships.
"I admire that very much," Rolfe said from her West Virginia office. "That's an interesting move. I'd like to see more moviemakers doing that. It allows the moviegoing public to see a new level of normal. Rather than making it an issue, it's automatically acceptable.
"That's an effective way of changing our presumptions, rather than automatically thinking when you see a white parent, there must be a white child."
The actors portraying this groundbreaking duo claimed it wasn't a big deal on the movie set.
Chester was being fitted for her wardrobe early in production when Spielberg told her that Goldblum would be playing her father.
"First, I said "you've got to be kidding,' " Chester recalled. "I was surprised, but I really didn't care. I just thought: Well, I guess I'm an interracial kid in a movie. Just one of those kids out there. I really didn't mind that he's my dad."
Goldblum focused on how to strike a convincing parental pose while battling dinosaurs.
"I think the way it's dealt with in the film is neat; the way it's not even explained and kind of just accepted," he said. "We didn't talk about it that much. We know it happens in life."
Nonetheless, Dr. Navita Cummings James, director of Africana Studies and an associate professor at the University of South Florida, says there could be "separatists" of all races who don't welcome that image in a movie.
"Race doesn't have to be a barrier to loving relationships. Spielberg is saying it's no big deal. That may not resonate in certain communities, and in other communities it won't resonate well."
Koepp's reply to that suggestion?
"I'm dying to see," he said. "Or, will those people who are going to see this movie anyway maybe chill out just the tiniest bit?
"I think we're so uptight about race in America, we have a hard time getting along. The cool way to do it is don't address it and let people figure it out."
Perhaps the answer is found in Malcolm's often-quoted remark about universal survival from Jurassic Park:
"Life finds a way."