Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
The opening scenes of "White Man's Burden" are ingenious and interesting, as it turns the tables on the color-coding in American society. It simply reverses the stereotypical roles of blacks and whites: The black characters are the wealthy, powerful establishment types in the big house in the suburbs, and the whites are a poor, disadvantaged minority group.
This is, of course, as great an oversimplification as the other way around. But it works dramatically to make visible a lot of our assumptions and prejudices. When John Travolta, as a factory worker, uneasily approaches the mansion of Harry Belafonte, the millionaire factory owner, we're forced to acknowledge that if the worker were black and the rich man were white, the scene would seem routine. Because it isn't - because privilege is turned topsy-turvy in the world of this film - we're forced to re-evaluate every conversation and nuance.
Travolta plays Louis Pinnock, a man who has been sent to his boss' home to deliver a package. Belafonte is the factory owner, Thaddeus Thomas. Louis is hard-working, has a good record at the factory, and is happy to do this extra work on a voluntary basis in order to score points with his superiors. Told to go around to the rear door of the mansion, he pauses uncertainly on the lawn and happens to see the rich man's wife, dressed only in a towel.
Thaddeus sees Louis on the lawn, and jumps to the conclusion that he is a peeping tom. But he doesn't make any accusations. He simply suggests, at a social function, that the factory "choose another man" the next time they send someone over. It is a well-known function of organizations that orders from the top get amplified on the way down, so that a wish becomes an edict. Louis is fired.