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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 (John Travolta), a white factory worker, who kidnaps Thaddeus Thomas (Harry Belafonte), a black factory owner for firing him over a perceived slight.[2]

White Man's Burden
White Mans Burden.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDesmond Nakano
Produced byLawrence Bender
Written byDesmond Nakano
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyWilly Kurant
Edited byNancy Richardson
Distributed bySavoy Pictures
Release date
  • December 1, 1995 (1995-12-01) (U.S.)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million
Box office$3,760,525 (US)

The title is a well-known phrase inspired by the famous poem of the same title by Rudyard Kipling.


The film begins with a dinner engagement at the Thomas residence. Thaddeus Thomas (Harry Belafonte), a wealthy CEO, prompts a discussion about white people and claims they are "genetically inferior" because the children grow up without fathers. In this alternative reality, the lower class consists of White Americans as the large percentage of minorities who live in rundown and crime-infested ghetto communities, and face prejudice from the broader society; while the comfortable middle-to-upper class is predominantly made of African Americans. The African Americans in the film are dominant in employment, business, and entertainment and they often refer condescendingly to how white children live in poverty and unfortunate conditions. The rich Thomas family are horrified and struggle to be polite in the presence of poor white people.

In an effort to go above and beyond in his position, Louis Pinnock (John Travolta), a struggling factory worker hoping for a promotion in the candy factory, offers to deliver a package after his shift. He delivers the package to successful CEO Thaddeus Thomas, who lives in a wealthy upper-class community predominantly made up of blacks. Pinnock is let into the property by a white servant at the security gate point in front of the Thomas residence and accidentally views Thomas's wife naked while dressing in her bedroom through the window. Thomas notices and complains to the VP at the factory, during a dinner engagement at his house, that he would prefer a different delivery man instead of a "Peeping Tom" to visit his house next time. Although Thomas does not suggest any form of punishment towards Pinnock, the VP "gets the message" and immediately fires Pinnock anyway. Pinnock returns to the Thomas residence in an attempt to discuss the misunderstanding with Thomas, but because Thomas is in an important business meeting, he refuses and sends a message to Pinnock that he apologizes, but there is nothing that he can do to help him. Pinnock begs for two minutes of his time, but is abruptly turned away.

Without any education or advanced skills, Pinnock finds difficulty getting a job and is unable to support his family. The Pinnock family are awakened one early morning by the police who are accompanied by the landlord to enforce eviction from the house; in mid-chaos the family struggle to gather their important belongings as they vacate the premises. Pinnock's mother-in-law scolds and belittles Louis for being a failure of a man and not taking care of his family; she clearly states that there is not enough room for him at her house and his wife and two children leave to live with her.

As if the situation could not get any worse, Pinnock's truck breaks down and he is forced to walk. Feeling down and lonely in the middle of the night, Pinnock is aggressively apprehended by the police, who mistake him for a bank robber because "he fit the description". The people inside the bar come outside and shout at the police, demanding that they leave Pinnock alone. Pinnock is brutally beaten by the police for causing a commotion and the police are chased away, as beer bottles are being thrown by the angry mob.

In a radical quest for justice, Pinnock waits outside the Thomas residence again, kidnaps Thomas at gunpoint and demands a large sum of money that he believes is owed him for losing his job. After multiple failed attempts to withdraw the money, Pinnock holds Thomas hostage for the weekend and takes him through the ghetto where he lives. Thomas, however, remains unsympathetic to Pinnock and calls him a failure who blames the world for his problems. But Pinnock takes Thomas through the ghetto anyway, 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 as far as they know he has done nothing wrong, and eventually beat him up for no good reason). In the end, though, mistakenly believed to be carrying a weapon by the police, Pinnock is shot and killed by them in an attempt to call for help for Thomas, who is in desperate need of medical attention because of breathing problems.

The chastened CEO visits Pinnock's grieving widow and offers her the money that 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 film gained a negative reception from critics.[3][4][5][6] It holds a 24% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews.[7]

The film 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 film star during the post-Pulp Fiction phase of his career.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (1995-02-06). "Turning the Tables on Race Relations". The New York Times. 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. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  3. ^ Mathews, Jack (1995-12-01). "MOVIE REVIEW : Racial Role Reversal in 'White Man's Burden'". Los Angeles Times. 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'". Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (1995-12-01). "White Man's Burden". Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  7. ^ "White Man's Burden (1995)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  8. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (1995-12-05). "Weekend Box Office : 'Toy Story' on a Roll". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-11-07.

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