Netflix’s Burning Sands: How Far Will You Go For Brotherhood?
In addition to being rooted deep in traditions, intellectual achievements, and leadership, Historically Black Colleges and Universities are often glorified by the presence of their Greek Life. These organizations have been a source of great pride for HBCU’s by adding tremendous quality to the HBCU experience. They often shed a positive light by being active members in their campus community, along with their community service driven qualities. However, dark clouds loom over these organizations as they have historically made it very taxing to gain membership into their prestigious ranks.
In response to having a series of high-profile scandals and legal cases involving hazing allegations, these practices are being banned from most campuses. However, there are speculations that the hazing practices still may continue. The underlying question revolving Greek life is, what is the price of brotherhood? A daunting question that plagues the main character Zurich, played by Trevor Jackson in the upcoming Netflix film Burning Sands.
Director Gerald McMurry, who was the associate producer to Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, brings these speculations to life in a firsthand and personal way. In his debut production, McMurry takes a very dark tone throughout the film, leaving viewers on edge anticipating how the next sequence of unfortunate events may unfold.
Zurich, a determined pre-medicine major, is motivated to join the prestigious fraternity, Lambda Lambda Phi, in hopes to finish something that his father did not. As one of the standout pledges, Zurich is torn between maintaining his code of silence and standing up against the intensifying violence of underground hazing. In addition to the position of Zurich as a pledgee, he has to battle and maintain a relationship with his girlfriend, Rochon (Imani Hakim), who feels neglected, convinced he has lost sight on his priorities. Yet it is the concern of his history professor, played by Alfre Woodard, who knows his focus has shifted to things outside of the classroom and encourages him to see his struggles to the end.
The movie chronicles the story of Zurich and his four “line brothers” who have already experienced three weeks of pledging and are embarking on Hell Week — the home stretch to join the Lambda Lambda Phi fraternity. The only way the pledges are able stay motivated is focusing on not only the social benefits, but also the idea of a lifetime of “leadership, scholarship, compassion, and brotherhood” promised between well-connected graduates who have traveled the same road.
After watching the roughly 102-minute film at Morehouse College’s advanced screening, Burning Sands offers a riveting storyline that held viewers captivated from beginning to end. The director puts viewers on a roller-coaster with highly intense moments quickly followed by scenes that allow viewers to catch their breath. Despite being hostile, the film puts the viewer at the forefront of the character’s hardships. The film did not provide a different narrative from how the media has portrayed black Greek life. Nonetheless, those watching the film could not help but be compelled with emotions until the very end.
With so much focus on the physical turmoil of the characters, there were definitely pieces of the story that were underdeveloped. Other than Zurich, the remaining pledges personal stories did not have a chance to have any depth. In addition to some missing character development, often the scene sequencing seemed very abrupt and sudden making it hard to let momentum build, but rather pushed viewers into the next intense situation.
Overall this was a very credible body of work that is worth watching. Although not quite ready for the big screen, Burning Sands has found the perfect home within Netflix as a hidden gem that will add to its thriving network of popular original movies and series. Look to see Burning Sands premier on Netflix March 10, 2017.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Ga., Lance Bennett, is a graduating senior Kinesiology major and Sports Journalism minor at Morehouse College.