The film “White Man’s Burden is a deliberate attempt by the director, Desmond Nakano, to show what the effects of race and social status are on a person’s beliefs, attitudes and behavior. The setting for the film is modern day America with a twist. In the film, blacks dominate economically, politically, and culturally, while whites represent the underclass. Touching upon issues that are prevalent in society today, the film gives the viewer a glimpse of what it’s like to be a minority living in a society where the social norms and popular culture are defined by the ruling class. These issues are presented in ways that are both direct and indirect. Mr. Nakano uses his characters Thaddeus Taylor and Louis Pinnock to illustrate both sides of the racial and class divide. It is in the first scene that we meet the antagonist of the movie, Thaddeus Taylor. The character of Thaddeus is the archetype of what we perceive members of the establishment to be. He’s a wealthy and influential businessman with a less than flattering opinion of those that are of a different race and socioeconomic status. The director uses this character to draw attention to the prejudices and assumptions that many members of the upper class have about the poor and minorities, particularly those living in the inner city.
In the first scene, Thaddeus is having a dinner party with other well to do friends and family members and the conversation turn to one of Thaddeus’ business deals. The deal involved the development of a shopping center in the inner city, which was burned down three months after it opened. One of the guests at the dinner party commented that it was a shame that the shopping center burnt down, because it would have provided jobs and infused money into a community that was economically deprived. Although the film didn’t go into much detail, it is evident that those living in the neighborhood set the fire. Thaddeus comments that there is something “inherently wrong with a people that continue to burn their neighborhoods down”. Thaddeus also mentions genetics, social deprivation, and the idea that the underclass is culturally crippled as being reasons why the people in those neighborhoods are inherently wrong. He goes on to question the reasoning behind social programs and charities in their quest to continue providing help and support to a people that are, in his opinion, beyond help. Later in the film, he states that the poor whites blame society for their problems and in turn use these problems as justification for criminal activities. It is only after being forced to spend some time with someone from the other side of the tracks that Thaddeus begins to reexamine his racist beliefs and attitudes.
Louis Pinnock is the film’s hero. He’s a proud man, who is hardworking and wants nothing more than to make a better life for his family. Yet at every turn, it seems that Louis is at a disadvantage. He’s uneducated, inarticulate and lives in a bad neighborhood with his wife and two children. It is through Louis that the audience is expected to experience a day in the life of blacks in America. Throughout the film Louis is confronted by issues that many people of color deal with everyday. Some of these are presented in an up front and in your face manner, while others are presented in subtle ways that may not be evident to everyone. The scene in which the police stop Louis for “resembling” a suspect in a crime and then beaten is one of the most vivid examples of the issues that minorities (usually young black and Latino men) deal with on a regular basis. This incident exposes two stereotypes that are prevalent in society today. The first is that all blacks look alike and the second is that all young black men are drug dealers, gang members or are involved in some other criminal activity. In addition, this scene shows how there are stereotypes on both sides of the coin. Many inner city inner city residents have a stereotype about police officers. They view the police not as protectors of the community, but as just the opposite; they are a part of the problem in the community. The stereotypes on both sides affect how each deal with the other. Many inner city residents are resentful of the police and behave defensively when approached by officers. And in doing so, the police officer will often times react in a similar manner. Police brutality is a hot topic, particularly in major urban areas such as Los Angeles and New York City. Discrimination in the workplace is another issue that is addressed in the film. Louis has worked at one of Thaddeus’ factories for years and has always gone out of his way to please his superiors and show that he is willing to take on more and more, yet he hadn’t been promoted. Ironically, it is that same willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty, which causes Louis to lose his job. After volunteering to deliver a package to Thaddeus’ home after work and with no additional pay, Louis finds himself without a job. While delivering the package to the Thomas resident, Louis inadvertently sees Thaddeus’ wife dressed in only a towel. Thaddeus in turn, witnesses this and causally asks Louis’ boss Lionel to make sure that he didn’t send Louis out to his house again for errands. Labeling Louis as a peeping Tom, Lionel goes beyond Thaddeus’ request and fires Louis. This incident is one way that the director shows us how a racial stereotype can affect how a person behaves. Lionel fired Louis because he believes him to be a peeping Tom and historically there has been a stereotype about black men being sexual predators. It is compounded in the case of black men and white women. Losing your job is a small price to pay considering that there have been incidences in which black men have been killed for looking at white women the wrong way.
Later in the film, the director again chooses not to address an issue head on, but in a subtler manner. In this instance he makes reference to the problem of media portrayals of minorities, and the overall lack of positive minority role models in film and television. The stereotypical beliefs that Thaddeus and others have about the poor and minorities are often times reinforced by the way media portrays them on television. In the film there is a very brief scene where Louis is watching television. As he channel surfs, you can’t help but notice how all the news clips had stories dealing with crime, and each time the criminal pictured was a white man. In addition, none of the television shows or commercials had whites acting in them. This can be seen as a major way that the ruling class reinforces and defines the culture. To show how the media can affect the way that minorities view themselves, the director uses Louis’s son. The only thing that Louis’ son wants for his birthday is an action figure a superhero from a cartoon. The superhero in this case is a black man; Louis is disturbed by the fact that his son doesn’t want the white superhero figure. As the mother of two children, I can relate to how Louis felt. Until recently, there have been few characters either in cartoons or children’s shows that can be labeled positive role models.
Unfortunately, many of the negative stereotypes and attitudes seen in the film are prevalent in society today. There are still those who believe that some minorities are genetically inferior, both morally and intellectually. Stereotypes about the poor and minorities being either too lazy to work, or that they prefer to collect welfare can be heard in many a campaign speech. It isn’t often that Hollywood deals with these issues in a serious manner. More often than not, Hollywood perpetuates the stereotypes of minorities, the poor, and on occasion, the rich. Overall, I think that Desmond Nakano effectively gives the viewing audience an often too realistic view of American society.