Saturday, February 7, 2015
WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (1995)
Written & Directed By: Desmond Nakano
Cinematography By: Willy Kurant
Editor: Nancy Richardson
Cast: John Travolta, Harry Belafonte, Kelly Lynch, Margaret Avery, Andrew Lawrence, Bumper Robinson, Tom Wright, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Michael Beach, Seth Green, Carrie Snodgrass, Alexis Arquette, Ingrid Rogers
The story takes place in alternative America where the blacks are members of social elite, and whites are inhabitants of inner city ghettos. Louis Pinnock is a white worker in a chocolate factory, loving husband and father of two children. While delivering a package for black CEO Thaddeus Thomas, he is mistaken for a voyeur and, as a result, loses his job, gets beaten by black cops and his family gets evicted from their home. Desperate Pinnock takes a gun and kidnaps Thomas, demanding justice.
Other then supposed role reversal of races in the world there is no story. I understand this was supposed to be a small slice of life on race relations, but there is no history given as to why or how the races have switched places and class.
Quite honestly the film could have been made without the role reversal and just been about a resentful, White man who is wrongly fired and takes out his anger on his Black boss and complains that the black world is infiltrating his world.
That could have been an interesting dynamic, but probably afraid the film would be deemed racist. Though could have opened up a discussion of race. Which this film seems to seek. Instead it goes with this rear reversal. Which feels more like a stunt and takes away from the film. So much so that the film feels more racist the way it is.
Some scenes would plaintive same way. Like when the black son brings home his white girlfriend and his parents try to stay polite despite their disappointment. Or when Travolta's son wants a black doll over a white one. According to this picture that only works with role reversal?
It is also disturbing that John Travolta's performance as a lower income member of society. He speaks with a dialect that is stereotypically associated for African American characters. Almost like a 1950's melodrama in other films. So it comes off as a bad impression of what he thinks is Ebonics. Her also make his character seem a bit slow. I don't believe it was malicious, but it is disturbing and sad. Travolta could have played the role just as normal and let the situations do all the talking.
John Travolta took the role at Quentin Tarantino's urging.
Quentin Tarantino also urged Kelly Lynch to do the film. Tarantino's company, A Band Apart, produced it.
These films on race relations are fascinating to me because they always seem to leave out other races other then black and white. You wonder where are the Asians, Hispanics and middle easterners? Where do they stand? Especially considering the film is written and directed by an Asian-American.
This was one of John Travolta's first films after his comeback from PULP FICTION. I can see he probably thought it was challenging, cutting edge plus returning a favor to the producer Lawrence bender who also produced PULP FICTION. It did him no favors.
If the film explored this world more vividly and set-up more situations maybe it could at least make a point. As It stands now it is role reversal. Just to do a pulp-ish story. It feels like an afterthought used as a gimmick to get an audience. A short story idea stretched on for too long.
This film bombed and it is obvious why. It seems more the type of film John Travolta would take before his comeback when his resume at the time was more straight to home video films. He is a talented actor who has made many bad to questionable film choices who is constantly saved by comebacks.
This was just a grand disappointment on so many levels.
It's a shame Harry Belafonte's return to the big screen was a DVD. Considering this was written and directed by the screenwriter of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN. I would have expected something more challenging, truthful and controversial. Not to mention better