#Film Review: Netflix’s Burning Sands (2017)

Director: Gerard McMurray

Rating: 4/5

Burning Sands is a new film on Netflix that tackles fraternities on US campuses. In the case of this film, the focus is on black fraternity called Lambda Tau and applicants also call it brotherhood.

These brotherhoods are a black equivalent to white fraternities. What is common to both types of organisations is the initiation process for new members, and this is what this film describes and clearly criticises because the initiation practices such as the one portrayed in this film are banned and yet they still happen. In this film we see the brutality of an initiation process for Lambda Tau brotherhood in a predominantly black campus in a rural area.

The initiation process known as the Hell week jeopardises personal relationships because Zurich (Trevor Jackson) is running out of money for having to buy food for brothers who threat him and other wannabe members as servants so he borrows from his girlfriend. However, he also does not have much time for his girlfriend because he needs to be available every night for the brutal initiation process while trying to cope with classes (clearly unsuccessfully) during the day. But, he continues because his dad failed to join when he applied as a student and he also wants benefits of the brotherhood such as networking for life with previous and future members. Nevertheless, potential brothers even get a chance to call older brothers who promise to put a word in for a job, training, or whatever. His father is trying to reach him clearly worried about him but he does not have the time, until it’s too late to change anything.

Because of the brutality of the process, one applicant dies which then casts a shadow to the whole process. In addition, it brings doubt to Zurich who previously questioned whether the whole process is worth the effort and whether the process also needs to change. Nevertheless, some changes have been made officially and the abuse has been banned but unofficially brothers continued to break ribs, intimidate, humiliate, financially abuse, etc.

I googled it and it turns out that this film is not a fiction but a fiction based in real life events and traditions. These associations do exist and the difference between black and white fraternities is that black fraternities do not always have their own houses on campus like white fraternities due to historical oppression. Thus, if they are in a small college in a rural area they do have to meet in fields and streets sometimes, and this is what this film portrayed really well.

A good film worth watching. It does not only show differences from white fraternities much portrayed in the popular culture, but also similarities. Just like white boys want to add a fraternity reference to their CV and network with members to advance their careers so do black students. Once again, our common interests are bigger than our differences and Netflix traditionally champions this and gives a voice to everyone. The film also tackles unnecessary violence which results with deaths in real life too, such as a famous case of Tim Piazza who died in a party where he was hazed and had too much to drink even though underage drinking and hazing are banned in US campuses just that fraternities would not change their ways (see the story here).

As the district attorney in case on Tim Piazza said, “If it takes eliminating these dens of depravity that won’t reform their ways, do it”. To that I can only add, indeed.

Thank you for reading.

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