White Man's Burden (film)

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White Man's Burden
White Mans Burden.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Desmond Nakano
Produced by Lawrence Bender
Written by Desmond Nakano
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Willy Kurant
Edited by Nancy Richardson
Distributed by Savoy Pictures
Release date
  • December 1, 1995 (1995-12-01) (U.S.)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $3,760,525 (USA)
For the poem by Rudyard Kipling, see The White Man's Burden.
For the book by William Easterly, see William Easterly.

White Man's Burden is a 1995 American drama film about racism in an alternative America where black and white Americans have reversed cultural roles.[1] The film was written and directed by Desmond Nakano.

The film revolves around Louis Pinnock, a white factory worker (John Travolta), who kidnaps Thaddeus Thomas, a black factory owner (Harry Belafonte) who fired him over a perceived slight.[2]


Louis Pinnock (John Travolta) is a struggling urban factory worker. In this alternative reality, it is a large underclass of European Americans who live in rundown, crime-infested ghettos and face prejudice from the broader society, while the comfortable middle and upper class is predominantly African American. It is unclear in the story if this version of the United States is one where blacks have become the overwhelming majority and whites the downtrodden minority, or if the events are taking place in a sort of Apartheid-like situation where a black minority controls the white majority and everything else. African-Americans in the film are dominant in business and entertainment and often refer condescendingly to how "cute" white kids are, and one rich African-American family is horrified and struggles to be polite when their son brings home a white girlfriend.

In an effort to go above and beyond in his position (hoping to become a foreman soon), in the candy factory in which he works, Pinnock delivers a package for his boss to successful CEO Thaddeus Thomas (Harry Belafonte), who has earlier expressed a view that white people "are genetically inferior". Pinnock is let into the property by a white security guard and accidentally sees Thomas's wife naked in her bedroom. She complains to her husband, who tells a VP at the factory he would prefer a different delivery man not a "Peeping Tom" to do the delivery job again. Although the CEO hasn't called for any other punishment of Pinnock, the VP "gets the message" and immediately fires Pinnock. Without any education or advanced skills, Pinnock cannot get a job (there are no good ones available anyway) and is unable to support his family. His mother-in-law endlessly calls him a loser and a failure, and his wife and two kids go to live with her.

In a radical quest for justice, Pinnock kidnaps Thomas and demands his job back. Thomas is not sympathetic to Pinnock and calls him a failure who blames the world for his problems. But Pinnock takes on Thomas through the ghetto where he lives, and Thomas alternates between enjoying some of the staples of ghetto life (Pinnock shows him how to use salt to enhance the flavor of ketchup with French fries) and having his eyes open to this world's racism (black cops are hostile to Pinnock, treat him like a criminal when he's done nothing wrong, and eventually beat him up for no good reason). In the end, though, Pinnock is shot and killed while Thomas watches and the CEO tries to call for help, but no one comes in time to save Pinnock's life. The chastened CEO visits Pinnock's grieving widow and offers her the money Louis lost when he was fired. She refuses it, and when Thomas awkwardly asks if she wants more, she bluntly says "How much would ever be enough?" and closes the door in his face as the movie ends.



The movie gained a negative reception from movie critics.[3][4][5][6] It holds a 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews.

The movie was not a box office success, though the very small budget meant its losses were also minimal; it was widely seen as a blip on the radar during John Travolta's massive comeback as a movie star during the post-Pulp Fiction phase of his career.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (1995-02-06). "Turning the Tables on Race Relations". The New York Times. NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  2. ^ Willman, Chris (1995-03-19). "Turnabout of Foul Play : In 'White Man's Burden,' John Travolta and Harry Belafonte tilt racism on its head, in a universe where black culture dominates. Get ready to rock your world.". Los Angeles Times. LATimes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  3. ^ Mathews, Jack (1995-12-01). "MOVIE REVIEW : Racial Role Reversal in 'White Man's Burden'". Los Angeles Times. LATimes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  4. ^ Hicks, Chris (1995-12-05). "Film review: White Man's Burden". Deseret News. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  5. ^ LaSalle, Mick (1995-12-01). "FILM REVIEW - Blacks Have the Power In `White Man's Burden'". SFGate.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (1995-12-01). "White Man's Burden". SunTimes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  7. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (1995-12-05). "Weekend Box Office : 'Toy Story' on a Roll". Los Angeles Times. LATimes.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 

External links[edit]