Written and Directed by Desmond Nakano
In an alternate America, African-American and Caucasians have reversed their cultural roles. In order to get what he feels is owed to him; white factory worker Louis Pinnock (John Travolta) kidnaps black CEO Thaddeus Thomas (Harry Belafonte) who had him fired over a perceived wrong.
Harry Belafonte is by far the best performance in this whole film. He is the most nuanced and dynamic of anyone as the individual whose overreaction started the chain of events rolling. He starts out as callous and bigoted but not a flaming racist. His view on whites is based on assumptions as it appears the only whites he interacts with are his maid.
Thomas is eventually forced to confront his own biases and realizes just how wrong he was but like so many people when they confront their own flaws his efforts to change are awkward and clumsy.
I am not sure what John Travolta was going for in his performance. It’s like a white man from suburbia doing an impersonation of what he thinks an African-American man is like. It was rough to watch at times. I am thinking one of those guys that has been so isolated that their only significant interaction with someone that was not white was the last time they saw a movie or TV show. Somewhat how I envision the character of Thaddeus Thomas to be. Travolta’s performance might not stick out so much if the other white characters he interacted with during the course of the film-like his wife-acted in a similar fashion, but they just play it straight.
I think the character of Louis Pinnock should have been played by someone other than Travolta. Either that or Director Desmond Nakano should have told him to stop with the accent. No other Caucasian he encounters in that entire film talks like he does. It bordered on an offensive parody. What was he thinking? It made his character less beaten down and just more weird.
All the authority figures in this movie and those in positions of power are played by African-American actors while all the people in the bad neighborhoods or who are marginalized by society are played by Caucasians. It is heavy-handed but it is necessary to drive home the point.
Pinnock kidnaps Thomas in an effort to get what he feels is owed which is backpay for the time he was out of work. He is angry over the unjustified dismissal. The idea for the kidnapping starts out simple enough but being a first time kidnapper Pinnock doesn’t know what to do and eventually he finds himself stuck with Thomas.
As he is dragged around by Pinnock, Thomas comes to realize how wrong he was about Pinnock as well as how wrong he was about his views on race. He even begins to feel pity for Pinnock up to a point. Unfortunately his own prejudices rear their head and things get out of control once again.
The film tries to say that we should not see people through a racial lens. That we are informed by our biases and must move past them. We all have problems and we all in the end are the same.
White Man’s Burden has a good message but is hindered mostly by Travolta’s oddball performance. If you can get past that you will end up enjoying this movie. It is not that bad. It is surprisingly better than it appears on the surface.