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Review Essays On Movies What Does R

Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation

Description:Religion and American Culture is devoted to promoting the ongoing scholarly discussion of the nature, terms, and dynamics of religion in America. Embracing a diversity of methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives, this semiannual publication explores the interplay between religion and other spheres of American culture. Although concentrated on specific topics, articles illuminate larger patterns, implications, and contexts of American life.

Coverage: 1991-2015 (Vol. 1, No. 1 - Vol. 25, No. 2)

Moving Wall: 3 years (What is the moving wall?)

The "moving wall" represents the time period between the last issue available in JSTOR and the most recently published issue of a journal. Moving walls are generally represented in years. In rare instances, a publisher has elected to have a "zero" moving wall, so their current issues are available in JSTOR shortly after publication.
Note: In calculating the moving wall, the current year is not counted.
For example, if the current year is 2008 and a journal has a 5 year moving wall, articles from the year 2002 are available.

Terms Related to the Moving Wall
Fixed walls: Journals with no new volumes being added to the archive.
Absorbed: Journals that are combined with another title.
Complete: Journals that are no longer published or that have been combined with another title.

ISSN: 10521151

EISSN: 15338568

Subjects: Religion, American Studies, Area Studies, Humanities

Collections: Arts & Sciences III Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection, Religion & Theology Collection

Watching "White Man's Burden," you can almost hear the sound of feet treading lightly on eggshells. This didactic political fable, which imagines an America in which the roles of blacks and whites are reversed, approaches its subject with such nervous self-consciousness that the arguments in its debate about racial injustice are measured out in quarter-teaspoons. Were it not for John Travolta's big-hearted portrayal of an unemployed white factory worker driven to commit a desperate act, the movie would be an emotionally frozen exercise in cautious high-mindedness.

As Louis Pinnock, a hard-working family man who loses his job and eventually his home through a minor misunderstanding at work, Mr. Travolta creates a sympathetic portrait of a man who comes unstrung. Until disaster strikes, Louis lives with his tight-lipped wife, Marsha (Kelly Lynch), and their two children in a poor white neighborhood of chain-link fences and decomposing auto parts that resembles south central Los Angeles.

Borderline poverty has strained the marriage, and the couple are behind in their mortgage payments. The film's most harrowing scene depicts the family's humiliating eviction, in which they are given 15 minutes to pack a few belongings and vacate the premises.

The Pinnocks' economic plight is pointedly contrasted with the opulent world of Thaddeus Thomas (Harry Belafonte), the well-heeled businessman who inadvertently caused Louis to be fired. The pet project of Thaddeus's elegant wife, Megan (Margaret Avery), happens to be a glitzy fashion show benefiting underprivileged white children. In a film that often pulls its punches, the scenes depicting the self-congratulatory condescension attending such events carry a satirical bite.

"White Man's Burden," which was written and directed by Desmond Nakano, changes from a what-if fable into a dull but well-meaning essay on race relations once Louis kidnaps Thaddeus in his rickety pickup truck and gives him a tour of his shabby world. At a fast-food stand, the pair are menaced by white skinheads, and guns are drawn. Later, Louis picks up his 6-year-old son and takes him to a toy store where, over the father's objections, the little boy chooses a doll of a black super-hero as a birthday present.

But as bold as it is, the premise of the film remains frustratingly undeveloped. In imagining America run by a black ruling class, the movie skirts any questions of what the dominant culture might be like. Beyond imagining white skinheads as inner-city gangsters, the movie is just as reluctant to flesh out the texture of a white ghetto culture.

This leaves the actors in a stylistic limbo. The black actors adopt similar masks of stiff upper-class gentility. With the exception of Mr. Travolta, the white actors exude the same attitude of clenched, suppressed bitterness.

The movie's timidity is especially apparent in a scene in which Louis, who is stopped on the street and questioned as a suspected robber, is beaten senseless by black policemen while a small crowd gathers to protest. Both the beating and the reaction to it are so perfunctory and low-key that the movie's caution becomes duplicitous. It wants to portray incendiary events, but in a way that avoids stirring up anger, and that's impossible.

"White Man's Burden" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It includes some violence and mildly vulgar language.


Written and directed by Desmond Nakano; director of photography, Willy Kurant; production designer, Naomi Shohan; music by Howard Shore; produced by Lawrence Bender; released by Savoy Pictures. Running time: 96 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: John Travolta (Louis Pinnock), Harry Belafonte (Thaddeus Thomas), Kelly Lynch (Marsha), Margaret Avery (Megan) and Tom Bower (Stanley).

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