White Man’s Burden

"White Man's Burden," the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in ancillaries.

With:
Lonny Baum - Mark Evan Jacobs
Denise Sheperd - Karen Kirkland
Todd - Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Daphne - Melina Kanakaredes
Fred Ghosh - Ranjit Chowdhry
Mel Shankman - Robert Levine
Donny Stewart - Charles Malik Whitfield
Enid Sheperd - Lorraine Toussaint
Mr. Baum - Elliott Gould
Doctor - Peter Riegert

“White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in ancillaries.

The story centers on Lonny (Mark Evan Jacobs), a paralegal with ambitions to flail against the system in the searing novel he’s been unable to begin. His inability to break through has left him emotionally hollow. Additionally, his work challenges are predictable, his relationship with his girlfriend empty and the fractious encounters with his liberal, work-ethic father tedious.

He’s looking for an opportunity and seizes the wrong one. By chance he encounters Denise (Karen Kirkland), a bright, black teenager preparing for scholastic tests. He’s taken with her voracity to learn and initially extends his hand in friendship as a tutor. Though he denies it, the relationship is more than that of teacher to student. He’s attracted to her and she’s overwhelmed by the interest and proximity of a mature man.

Though the scenario is common enough, the racial component takes it another step. More than age is a factor here, although that facet of the situation allows many of the characters — especially those who profess progressive attitudes — to demonstrate a latent fear of sex between the races.

Hines and writer Allison Burnett don’t pull any punches in “White Man’s Burden.” With rare exception, the chorus around Lonny and Denise make it clear to each that the situation is doomed to sour. Passion and obstinacy prevail, however, and the consequences are to varying degrees fatal for the couple.

The arc of the tragedy is set early in the film and never waivers from its appointed trajectory. With no prospect of surprise, the narrative flow is increasingly sluggish: It becomes difficult to wade through the sadness when there’s no interest or outcome to root for.

The direction, on the plus side, is seamless, uncluttered and, to its disadvantage, unrelentingly earnest. Pic benefits from an undeniable veracity and strong performances from its leads and supporting players. Particularly chilling is Lorraine Toussaint as Denise’s mother.

But despite these bright spots, the mantle of this “Burden” is not easily worn.

White Man's Burden

Production: A City Films presentation. Produced by Mark Evan Jacobs, Ron Kastner. Executive producer, Ben Barenholtz. Co-producer, Harvey Waldman. Directed by Gregory Hines. Screenplay, Allison Burnett.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Bernd Heinl; editor, Ray Hubley; music, Stanley Clarke; production design, Nancy Deren; costume design, Karen Perry; sound (Dolby), Mark Weingarten, Tom Paul; assistant director, Todd Pfeiffer; casting, Jaki Brown-Karman, Kimberly Hardin. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 14, 1994. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: Lonny Baum - Mark Evan Jacobs
Denise Sheperd - Karen Kirkland
Todd - Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Daphne - Melina Kanakaredes
Fred Ghosh - Ranjit Chowdhry
Mel Shankman - Robert Levine
Donny Stewart - Charles Malik Whitfield
Enid Sheperd - Lorraine Toussaint
Mr. Baum - Elliott Gould
Doctor - Peter Riegert

More Film

  • Machine Gun Kelly'Bright' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Machine Gun Kelly to Play Tommy Lee in Netflix's Motley Crue Biopic 'The Dirt'

    “White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in […]

  • Brett Haley Hearts Beat Loud

    Sundance: Brett Haley on 'Hearts Beat Loud' and Making Indie Films for Middle America

    “White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in […]

  • Lionsgate Power Rangers

    Lionsgate Stock Jumps on Takeover Speculation

    “White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in […]

  • Fifty Shades Freed

    'Fifty Shades Freed' to Tie Up $37 Million in Opening Weekend

    “White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in […]

  • Robert Redford Sundance 2018

    Robert Redford Says #MeToo Movement Will Give Women More Opportunities in Hollywood

    “White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in […]

  • American Animals

    First Look at Poster for Buzzy Sundance Heist Film 'American Animals' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in […]

  • Indie Sales Acquires Claus Drexel’s Political

    Indie Sales Acquires Claus Drexel's Political Documentary 'America' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “White Man’s Burden,” the directorial debut of actor Gregory Hines, is a serious-minded tale of interracial relationships that marks a promising but flawed filmmaking debut. A downbeat, literal script makes this polished indie effort a limited audience proposition. It should score some theatrical heat based on content but will likely find its biggest response in […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content