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Film / White Man's Burden

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Two men at odds in a world turned upside down.

"White people are genetically inferior. Or they're culturally crippled. Or they're socially deprived. Those types of arguments mean absolutely nothing. The bottom line is very simple. These people are beyond help."
Thaddeus Thomas

White Man's Burden is a 1995 film starring John Travolta and Harry Belafonte in an alternate America in which blacks are the racial majority, and whites are a minority group. Travolta plays as Louis Pinnock, a factory worker, and Belafonte plays as Thaddeus Thomas, the owner of the factory. One day, Louis is asked to deliver a package to Thaddeus' house. However, he accidentally walks by the bedroom window where Thaddeus' wife is undressing. Thaddeus sees him, and reports him to Louis' supervisor, who fires him the next day. Shortly afterwards, Louis is beaten by cops on the way home, evicted from his house, and lands in a sore spot with his family. Unable to find a stable job, Louis kidnaps Thaddeus in order to gain money for his family. A series of events follow that change both of their lives forever.

Not to be confused with the trope with the same name, which does not play a major role in the film.

This film provides examples of

  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype: But fitting with the theme of the film, it's actually a Stereotype Flip. Louis is white instead of black, but the stereotype is played in the exact same way.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Inverted. In the race-flipped society, Thaddeus' wife shows obvious discomfort when her son brings home a white date.
  • Different States of America: The film is set in an alternate United States that is very much the same as the real life version, except that race relations are reversed, with blacks as the social majority and whites as the social minority.
  • Downer Ending: Thaddeus comes to see the error of his ways, but Louis is shot and killed by police, his surviving family now lives in a run-down hotel, and it is implied that Louis' son is likely heading down a bad path.
  • Glorified Sperm Donor: Mentioned by Thaddeus when his wife is discussing an event she was at that had inner-city white children there. She is not amused.
  • The Hero Dies: Louis is shot dead by police when they see him holding a gun, even though he is trying to give up.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite the cultural reversal, America turned out pretty much the same, just with blacks in traditionally white roles, and vice versa. One slight cultural change that is shown is that heavy metal is the music of ghetto youth, instead of rap and hip-hop.
  • Just the Introduction to the Opposites: The whole movie.
  • Mammy: Inverted in the film, which is set in an alternate America where blacks are the dominant ethnic group and whites are the minority. Wealthy businessman Thaddeus Thomas has a white live-in maid who otherwise fits the physical description of being older, overweight, and servile exactly.
  • Moral Myopia: Megan shames Thaddeus throughout the movie for his casual racism, but she seems visibly uncomfortable when their child brings home a white date.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes the movie look like an action thriller where Louis is a badass Anti-Hero. In actuality, the action moments in the trailer are practically all of the action moments in the entire film. Also, Thaddeus is made to look more villainous. For example, his line "white people are genetically inferior" is taken out of context so that it sounds like he's stating his own opinion.note 
  • Persecution Flip: The whole movie is set in an alternate universe where white and blacks have switched their roles.
  • Police Brutality: Louis becomes a victim of this when two cops mistake him for a perp with a similar appearance (i.e. white). They beat him up after he gets justifiably upset at this.
  • Scary Minority Suspect: Like many other race tropes, played differently than usual. Louis is thrust into this when two black cops mistake him for a similar looking perp, and eventually leads to his death when the police find him surrendering while he is holding his gun.
  • Stereotype Flip: The entire movie has blacks and whites reversing stereotypes. The white Louis' form of speech is very street-wise, whereas the black Thaddeus is much more articulate. The racial slur "ghosts" is used by black people for white people, whom they see as eerily pale at night.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Thaddeus gives Louis this after he almost escapes him. Ignorant of what Louis has gone through up until his kidnapping, he insists that all of his short-comings are his fault, and his fault alone. This results in a Shut Up, Hannibal! moment, when Louis points out that Thaddeus has acted out of desperation as well, but always considers his own actions "different".
  • Too Dumb to Live Surrendering while still holding your gun isn't the best of ideas, Louis.
  • White Man's Burden: Almost completely Averted, despite the name. This film is about an alternate America with a Stereotype Flip where whites and blacks switch places in the social-economic ladder. It doesn't feature this trope (or rather, its inversion) particularly much since the well-off black deuteragonist Thaddeus regards lower class whites such as protagonist Louis with contempt and racial prejudice, but his wife does support a charity to help poor white youths from the inner cities.