There is a certain unspoken etiquette to which members of all families must agree. Whether they are blood relatives, football teammates or sorority sisters, they all understand the unwritten rule that applies to these bonds:
Don’t put our business in the streets.
Before Netflix has even released its newest movie focusing on a black fraternity at a historically black college, it has already been embroiled in controversy. Even the trailer for the movie caused discussion and dissent. Fraternities are a brotherhood, and this movie looked like a public airing of dirty laundry.
Gerard McMurray’s film, Burning Sands, arriving March 10, is the story of Zurich, a student at the fictional Frederick Douglass University making his way through hell week of Lambda Lambda Phi, a black, Greek-letter organization. The movie deals with the topics of academics, history, the importance of HBCUs and myriad other issues. Take a look at an exclusive clip from the movie:
But it is mostly about pledging.
Hazing has always been a contentious topic among fraternity and sorority members. Its advocates say it is part of a long-held tradition that can’t be understood unless you belong, while detractors paint it as a needless, brutish ritual whose time has long passed. These two diverging opinions clash head to head in Burning Sands.
It is plain that McMurray, who directed and co-wrote the film, gleaned much of the film’s material from his experience as a member of Omega Psi Phi (a fraternity to which I, too, belong). McMurray doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality, purposeless tradition and unhinged machismo that have intertwined themselves into the pledge process of many black Greek-letter organizations, which is sure to upset many fraternity and sorority members.
What the trailer doesn’t show, however, is how the movie balances this narrative by having the main characters continually voice—to themselves and others—that they want to endure the process, often reiterating how they understand the choices they are making. It explores the topic and allows the viewer to make up his or her mind.
The star of the movie, Trevor Jackson, prepared for the role by talking with members of Kappa Alpha Psi to get an unbiased view of pledging. Explained McMurray: “I wanted to ask this question. I knew it would upset some people, but I think the film explores the question without passing judgment.”
With the film debuting during a time when black moviegoers have complained about the lack of diversity in stories for people of color, both McMurray and Jackson are proud that they were able to produce a film that shows educated, well-rounded characters outside of the “slave narrative” who don’t need to be rescued by a white savior. The movie doesn’t try to appeal to a wider, more mainstream audience by explaining itself or watering down the content.
Burning Sands forces the viewer to take an unfiltered, close-up look at the tradition of pledging and whether it belongs in a civilized, new-millennium world. While the subject matter may prompt wild differences of opinion, Jackson notes, “At its heart, what I love about the movie is that it is a story. A human story.”