White Man's Burden

on December 01, 1995 by Kim Williamson
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   "I would like to propose a toast," says a rich industrialist (Harry Belafonte), holding a wine glass aloft to celebrate his wife's work in social programs; seated at the dining room table at his opulent residence, smiling their comfortable smiles, are his equally rich friends and their bejeweled women. It's an ostentatiously simple moment that could occur in many whites' homes in the real world but, in the world of "White Man's Burden," it takes place and would take place only at a black man's estate. The reason: In the alternate universe created by writer/director Desmond Nakano (scripter of "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "American Me"), blacks are the privileged upper class, and whites are the working (or nonworking) class struggling to get out of the ghetto. Married factory man Louis (John Travolta) is set for a promotion when he loses his job due to a misunderstanding with factory owner Thaddeus (Belafonte). Angered by the unfair treatment and pushed to the edge by his family's resulting financial plight, which loses him his wife (Kelly Lynch) and children, Louis kidnaps Thaddeus for ransom. Meaningful tragedy follows. Sam Goldwyn's famous aphorism about sending messages has some application here; Nakano's people are part self, part sociology, and the sheerness of his intention gives the plot a foreordained feel. But the emotion that Nakano, Travolta and Lynch invest in their characters and the effectively para-adoxical turn Belafonte gives Thaddeus part liberal, part racist makes "White Man's Burden" a look at color relations that's likely to be more compelling for nonurban audiences than the latest take on drug dealing and gang banging in the 'hood.    Starring John Travolta, Harry Belafonte and Kelly Lynch. Directed and written by Desmond Nakano. Produced by Lawrence Bender. A Savoy release. Drama. Rated R for strong language and some violence. Running time: 88 min.
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