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White Man's Burden

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: White Man's Burden

Starring: John Travolta, Harry Belafonte
Director: Desmond Nakano
Rated: R
RunTime: 89 Minutes
Release Date: December 1995
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Kelly Lynch, Margaret Avery, Tom Bower, Robert Gossett, Carrie Snodgress, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Andrew Lawrence, Bumper Johnson, Tom Wright

Review by Dragan Antulov
2½ stars out of 4

Alternative history is a concept rarely used in movies, and not only because it requires larger budgets and more inventive screenwriting in order to realistically create alternate words. It is rarely used because many people simply can't grasp it. One of such instances happened in Croatia when WHITE MAN'S BURDEN, 1995 science fiction drama written and directed by Desmond Nakano, came into local video stores. The distributor advertised the film as being set in "near future".

The plot of the film is actually set in present day, but that present day is in alternative America where the position of races is reversed. Blacks are affluent majority, while whites are impoverished minority, forced to live in inner-city ghettos in vicious cycle of violence, poverty and always confronted with prejudice. Louis Pinnock (played by John Travolta) is white factory worker who tries to do the right thing and provide good life for his family. In order to earn some extra cash he volunteers to deliver package to the house of Thaddeus Thomas (played by Harry Belafonte), black CEO. There he accidentally glimpses Thomas' wife Megan (played by Margaret Avery) coming under shower and gets mistaken for a voyeur. This misunderstanding has disastrous consequences for Pinnock - he loses job, gets beaten by black cops and his family gets evicted. In despair, Pinnock decides to kidnap Thomas and demand justice.

Desmond Nakano is Japanese American and as such he was probably more qualified to comment on the state of black-white relations in 1990s America. Those relations became big issue after Los Angeles riots and O.J. Simpson affair. Nakano's observations are quite interesting, especially in the first part of the film when we watch usual racial stereotypes in reverse - whites seen as potential rapists, criminals; media dominated by black faces as embodiment of beauty; black cops harassing white leaving in inner-cities etc. However, the novelty quickly wears off and it soon becomes apparent that Nakano's view of present-day America is too simplistic - affluent blacks are today much more common sight than they used to be some forty years ago and anyone who watches JERRY SPRINGER SHOW knows that poverty doesn't recognise racial boundaries. In the second part the film degenerates into cliches when Thaddeus and Louis start to befriend each other and have to dodge police bullets. Travolta and Belafonte, however, play their roles superbly and improve the general impression of this film. WHITE MAN'S BURDEN, although it could have been much better, serves its purpose by allowing the audience to see some banal facts of life from thought-provoking perspective.

Copyright 2003 Dragan Antulov

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