White Man’s Burden

Directed by Desmond Nakano

This could be the film that is needed to refer to right now as whites and blacks in this culture finally begin to circle each other, trying to decide how best to get down and dirty with that damn bugaboo of race and it’s shadow players of class, justice and power.

John Travolta plays Louis Pinnock, a factory worker for See’s Candies with a history of exemplary company loyalty working his way towards a promotion. He’s been with the company many years, dutifully doing his job, looking forward to the day, any day now, that he’ll finally get his much-deserved promotion to foreman. He has a wife, a little boy, a small house in the part of the city that doesn’t have any sidewalks, and some sort of problem with pride because his wife (Kelly Lynch) wants to work, but Louis gives her the evil eye every time she brings it up. One day after work, just at quitting time, Louis’s boss asks Louis and his coworker if one of them could take a small package across town to drop off to Thaddeus Thomas (Harry Belafonte) the owner of the company who has an estate. Louis steps forward and grabs the package immediately, even though he’ll be delivering it on his own time and happily takes his beat-up old white truck across town to deliver the package. When he gets to the estate of Mr. Thomas he ends up approaching it from the back way without realizing it, walks up to the house, looks up and inadvertently sees Mr. Thomas’s wife nude through an upstairs window. Mr. Thomas, who is watching him through the window as he stands right next to his unclothed wife, says to Louis’ boss on the phone "Send another delivery boy next time. Not another peeping tom." These few words set off a chain reaction that ricochets for the rest of the movie, serpentining it’s way through the issue of color by presenting a mirror image for society to see: Louis and his family (in fact ALL whites in this picture) live in a black world. When Louis’s little boy flips the channels on the remote control, EVERY television station has nothing but black faces. Black game shows. Black soap operas. Black news broadcasts with violators referred to as "Caucasian". Black commercials. The family of Mr. Thomas all sit around, fat and happy, at their gigantic dinner table talking about how inferior the white race is. Scary? Wait until you see the look of incredulous horror of Thaddeus’ face when he sees one white man gun down another.

What screenwriter and first time director Desmond Nakano (Last Exit To Brooklyn, American Me) has created is a horror movie for white folk, and this SHOULD scare the white folk who have never thought twice about their hegemony in society, and the responsibility it brings. Since he has directly inverted the equation, the question of skin color is shown to be completely moot as the real underlying issues of class and power are revealed to be the causes they really are, not the effects. This is a film about a situation that gets out of hand due to a simple misunderstanding that is dealt with so offhandedly that the ensuing consequences were never even contemplated by the perpetrator and they come back not only to haunt him, but to place him on the threshold of death’s door. I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot for a reason: The script is so good that when law-abiding Louis finds himself in the worst of all desperate situations, scene follows scene so haphazardly as a reflection of his thought processes because he has completely freaked out. He has no idea what he is going to do next, and the tension of the film is wound so tightly because the film is through Louis’s eyes, and there is nothing more dangerous than a criminal who has not thought out his own motivation. John Travolta’s performance is exceptional because he doesn’t have any of his standard suave moves or cool facade to lean back on, ala Pulp Fiction or Get Shorty. He’s a blue-collar worker who has become accustomed to his lower rung in society, yet has accepted his responsibilities with pride and diligence. He has been a considerate, patient, law-abiding citizen his whole life and has worked hard for his position and his family, no matter how slightly above the poverty line he may be swimming, and when he realizes that all he’s worked so hard for means nothing to the heartless authority figures that begin to circle around him like vultures who insist on remaining oblivious to his circumstance he begins to behave like a cornered rat.

When the film is over and the cards have fallen where they have, what is left is a tragedy that, like all tragedies, could have been so easily avoided if only two minutes of someone’s time could have been negotiated. Take someone you know to this film. Take that person who you know as an acquaintance whom you’ve never wanted to have as a friend just because they don’t understand it’s not about the color of someone’s skin, it’s about character. Talk to them extensively about the issues in this film on your way home. Make sure they get it.