Youth Opinion : 'The Black Characters Acted Too Nice'

In the movie, "White Man's Burden," writer/ director Desmond Nakano uses reverse stereotyping: Blacks are rich and empowered; whites are impoverished and unempowered. In early screenings, African American and white audiences reportedly had very different reactions to the film. MARY REESE BOYKIN went to see the film with young people of diverse backgrounds and sought their views. Some found it true to life, some felt it was overdone and some felt excluded by the black-white focus. Many said that they believe their generation is escaping the racism skewered by the movie.

MEGAN COSBY, Law student, USC

I have a friend at work who comes from an affluent white background. He can't understand why programs like affirmative action and welfare are necessary. I think that if he saw the movie, he would better understand.

So many of the problems in our community occur not because we are genetically criminal or less intelligent but because limited opportunities can lead anyone, regardless of race, to make inappropriate choices.

For example, the Travolta character kidnaps the Belafonte character. Belafonte couldn't understand why Travolta would do that for a few thousand dollars. For me, seeing a black character who can't comprehend that the kidnapping was about a man's desperate attempt to get money for his family made me understand how it is that some whites, like my friend at work, don't understand the problems facing minorities and the underprivileged.


MARIA ANGULO, Senior, Manual Arts High School

If the black characters were used to show what prejudice against blacks is like, then the black characters acted too nice. In real life, prejudiced whites would have been more vulgar.

For example, the Belafonte character used no ugly name-calling. But in real life, the N-word would have been used.

There is a scene where Travolta goes to the Belafonte house, enters through the wrong entrance, and ends up being called a Peeping Tom because he sees Belafonte's wife wrapped only in a towel. In real life, a black man wouldn't be able to ride through a rich white neighborhood without being stopped by police. If he made it to the house, a black man would have been checked by security before he entered the yard. And if the movie represents history, a black man who looked at an undressed white woman wouldn't have just lost his job, he would have been killed.

I am a Mexican, but I am not offended that the film was only about blacks and whites. I do feel that other races could have at least been put in the background.


JACOB BERNSTEIN, Junior, Yula High School, Los Angeles

I have not heard anyone speak like the characters in the movie. But I haven't been around a lot of different races because I attend a private Jewish school. Since I started working, I have gotten to understand people of different races--Latinos, blacks.

I think that race relations will change with my generation. You see a lot of people who are discriminated against rising up and saying, "We are not going to take this anymore."


MIRA JANG, Senior, Beverly Hills HIgh School

If you are looking for something profound, you are not going to get it here. I thought the movie was extreme. I guess for satirical purposes it worked, but other than that, I don't think that people should take it seriously.

Maybe black people really enjoyed it because they understand what Travolta is going through, and now it's their chance to sit back and laugh at a white man getting all the hardships that blacks have been through. But a white person may find it offensive.

I think that our generation has the potential to be a lot more open-minded and accepting of other races. We know that people who judge you for the color of your skin are going to lose out.


MOAYAD FOWLER, Freshman, West Los Angeles College

I can relate to a number of the incidents in the movie. Take the scene where Travolta is sitting on the curb when his truck stopped running and the police approach him, saying that he fits the description of a suspect. On my way home from work or a friend's house, I have had that same experience. It makes me wonder how often they can use that same excuse.

Then there is the scene at the toy store, where the white kid chooses the black superhero doll as the father has this expression that says "Get the white one; that's us." As a child, I chose white superhero characters as my mother insisted, "No, get the black one."

But I don't know whether to take the movie as an insult or a wakeup call. If it's intended to educate whites about blacks, it took only the negative section of our neighborhood to do so.


BENJAMIN SPIEGHTS, Senior, Inglewood High School

The movie did not address the race issue that's most important to me: the division between older and younger blacks. Many older blacks have a media image of us younger blacks. They really don't know us. It's one thing that I wear dreadlocks and people stare as if to say, "What's that?" It's another thing when older blacks jump to the side or curl up as we pass by.

Older blacks tried to merge and fit in. Younger blacks rebel against society for all the things we see it has done to the older generation. We feel there is no way to merge with the mainstream and feel natural and stick to our own culture.

In my opinion, the film fell short because it's hard to describe somebody else's struggle unless you have gone through it yourself.


GENEVIEVE WONG, Sophomore, Beverly Hills High School

I feel that the scene where the white kid bought the African American superhero character was funny and realistic. My sister would buy a Caucasian doll instead of an Asian one. When I was younger, I bought Caucasian dolls because they were the only ones available. But I would make my Caucasian dolls Chinese by having them speak in Chinese and hold chopsticks. I would paint some of my Caucasian dolls black and dye their hair brown.

I was surprised, though, that there weren't more different races involved, considering the fact that the director is Asian. This is L.A., a global village.

The movie didn't work for me in a satirical sense because I know African Americans who live in gated mansions in Beverly Hills and have Caucasian housekeepers. They live just like the people in the movie.

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