When we reported news about the film Burden, a story about the redemption of a KKK member Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) thanks to special Black men Rev. David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) and Clarence Brooks (Usher), folks cried out about why, yet again, we have a redemption story involving a white protagonist learning about the humanity of other people through the long-suffering efforts of Black characters.
Black film lovers on Twitter weren’t the only people immediately tired of the film. Sundance reviews of the film slammed it for its reliance on white pain to showcase race relations. As IndieWire reports, “Phrases like ‘white savior complex’ and plot descriptions like ‘KKK member finds a better way thanks to the love of a good white woman [Andrea Riseborough, who plays Burden’s love interest Judy]’ appear throughout them. Others took the film to task for not being believable enough or the kind of feature the world needs now.”
Director Andrew Heckler has given IndieWire his opinion on those reviews in a recent interview. “I hear it in the labeling of the comments after they see the trailer, and I always want to jump into it, I want to say, ‘You’re right,'” he said. “How many times do we have to ask you to reach out and forgive people? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know if you don’t if someone doesn’t make the first step, if you don’t make a change, we’re going nowhere. We’re doing the same thing. We’re perpetuating this, and it’s getting worse and worse.”
Despite Heckler’s belief that the film will help change hearts, the film is currently at a 59 percent rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Indeed, many of the reviews slam the film for its simplistic view of race relations, forgiveness and spiritual change. Roger Ebert’s Brian Tallerico wrote that the film is “a tough sell.”
“Who needs another story about a reprehensible racist discovering that racism is something he was taught, not something that we’re born believing?” he wrote. “And it’s a film that falls victim to a few other tropes as well, including Black characters who seem designed to help the white protagonist on his journey to discovery and the edge of what’s often called ‘poverty porn,’ in which less well-off people are used in a way that feels exploitative more than genuine.”
A.V. Club’s Katie Rife also wrote about the film’s usage of Black characters as objects to help whiteness, writing “[T]he story ends up lopsided, defining its Black characters by their struggle while giving the town’s racist whites a more fully formed humanity.”
The film is currently in theaters as a limited release.
Photo credit: 101 Studios
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