THREE STARS – Thought-provoking
Understanding the racial dynamics of American life is not an easy task. It requires an ability to put one’s self in the other person’s shoes emotionally, economically and ethically.
Perhaps in a way that no other medium can approximate, cinema has that ability. Though novels have tried to express the internal stress and hopelessness of racial barriers, cinema has the unique ability of doing it in living color and sound.
Though it is so powerful and depressing that it may not lure the average viewer, WHITE MAN’S BURDEN is an important work in the journey toward racial understanding and possible resolution.
With the unique approach of reversing the black and white racial experience, Director Desmond Nakano creates a new, yet painfully old America.
The central character is a poor inner-city white man named Pinnock (John Travolta). Being trapped in a world where his economic options are almost non-existent, Pinnock loses his job unfairly.
When attempting to get ahead, he volunteers to give his own time and money to deliver a package to the owner of the company, he becomes the victim of the racial stereotyping of the black owner.
Played with style and believable prejudice as well as well-meaning philanthropic involvement, Mr. Thomas (Harry Belafonte) destroys Pinnock’s life.
Fired, with no employment, Pinnock soon is evicted from his home and his wife and children leave him to live with her mother.
In desperation, Pinnock tries to get Thomas to give him the money he feels he owes him for causing him to lose his job.
Though unintended he ends up kidnapping Thomas and holding him hostage a weekend.
It is this prolonged exposure of the wealthy black man to the poor white man’s life and family that begins to open the window of understanding.
The problem, of course, is that Pinnock has kidnapped him, an immoral action regardless of the economic realities.
It is here that the film gives us its most thought-provoking work. In a clear message, the film shows that illegal and unethical action does not solve the racial inequities, either for Pinnock or for Thomas.
Though in the end Thomas feels great guilt and remorse for the broken life he helped cause, his only solution is money. Pinnock’s wife (Kelly Lynch) will not accept it.
At that moment the film clearly allows us to feel the spiritual reality of the problem. The solution is not about welfare or philanthropy, or even about guilt and restitution, the solution is about dignity.
What hurts Pinnock the most in his undeserved loss of job, family and home, is that the man who did it to him didn’t even know him. He wasn’t even important enough to him for his destroyer to realize he had destroyed him.
This truth that people become invisible members of “those people” is at the core of the evil of racism. Most of the faceless masses of inner-city poor, who are locked into structures which take away their dignity and their hope, want more than anything else to be treated with respect and worth.
When this desire is expressed through such movements as Black Pride, or Chicano Power, it is experienced by other races as a threat. And, if it is an attempt to simply reverse the racism, then it is just as evil as the white supremacy it is confronting.
What is needed is not pride in skin pigmentation or genetic pools, but rather pride in humanity as a whole. The solution is in uniting as brothers and sisters of the heavenly Father in one human family that can provide both the dignity and unity we all so deeply need.
Though WHITE MAN’S BURDEN is a powerful tool to gain understanding, it fails in portraying any presentation of hope.
As the film so graphically demonstrates, reversing the roles will not solve our pain. We must, in the final and ultimate sense, provide each unique human being with the dignity and hope that only comes from our spiritual unity in God.