White Supremacist Pacification Is a Hollywood Burden

BURDEN | Official Trailer / 101 Studios (YouTube)

The trailer for Burden has arrived and I’m fucking tired.

From the film’s official press release:

When a museum celebrating the Ku Klux Klan opens in a small South Carolina town, the idealistic Reverend Kennedy (Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker) resolves to do everything in his power to prevent long-simmering racial tensions from boiling over. But the members of Kennedy’s congregation are shocked to discover that his plan includes sheltering Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), a Klansman whose relationships with both a single-mother (Andrea Riseborough) and a high-school friend (Usher Raymond) force him to re-examine his long-held beliefs. After Kennedy helps Mike leave behind his violent past, the Baptist preacher finds himself on a collision course with manipulative KKK leader Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson). In the face of grave threats to himself and his family, the resolute Kennedy bravely pursues a path toward peace, setting aside his own misgivings in the hopes of healing his wounded community. From Oscar-nominated filmmaker Robbie Brenner (Dallas Buyers Club) and writer/director Andrew Heckler comes this dramatic true story of compassion and grace in the American South.

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“We’re in the midst of an epidemic,” Whitaker’s Rev. Kennedy utters toward the top of the film’s official trailer.

I’ll say.

Not too long before that priceless line, I see Sundance Film Festival’s famous laurels and see the words “Audience Winner” displayed across the screen.

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Of course it fucking did. Green Book won the Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award in 2018, before going on to win Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Awards. Or if you need a couple of other examples, there’s Taraji P. Henson in a mammy suit befriending a KKK leader or the full-blown epic love story of a black girl and a fucking Nazi (which apparently featured this wildly ridiculous “nigger music” scene).

“The weapons that we use to fight fear, they’re not brutality, they’re not wrath, they’re not hate!” Rev. Kennedy exclaims from the pulpit. “They are, and will always be, love.”

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Excuse the bluntness—though it’s all I have the energy for at this point—but weren’t the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church parishioners ensconced in prayer and love before Dylann Roof walked inside and executed a brutal massacre, leaving nine of them dead? And then apparently had the gumption to travel to Branch AME Church with the intention to do the same thing?

This film is based on a true story that occurred in South Carolina in 1996. Much like the civil rights era images that whitewashing America wants us to believe were so long ago (despite the fact they occurred in some of our or our parents’ lifetimes), that story was only 23 years ago. I was 12 years old at the time. And at that time, I likely had my head in a history book scanning black-and-white photos of the very white-cloaked KKK members featured in this trailer. Little did I know that in post-first-black-president 2019 I’d be watching the KKK-by-another-wardrobe rioting in Charlottesville, Va., and subsequently witness the first orange president refer to them as “fine people.”

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Forcing “love over hate” propaganda is stripping away our right to be human, especially in an era where we can barely blink without being subjected to images of black execution. I certainly can’t minimize this narrative as a simple and fickle Hollywood trend when I’m watching a real-life montage of a black man forgiving his brother’s killer (while attempting to fully erase the mother who spoke out against police corruption).

I’m tired. I’m tired of the need to humanize racists. I’m tired of exploiting the very real pain and trauma of the black community with unnecessary images of black kids hugging cops. I’m tired of this “feel-good” trope when I feel fucking awful every time I see countless frames of police officers (many of whom may very well be the KKK with a badge) torturing black children for simply existing.

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The burden is heavy, indeed.

Burden releases in select theaters Feb. 28.

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About the author

Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.