MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Burden is a provocative film that finds itself situated between two familiar quotes.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
“If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” (Modern proverbial saying)
Burden is a fact-based story of forgiveness and redemption. It’s a personal story about Mike Burden (Hedlund), a broken man who is lifted out of the depths of evil by the love of a good woman (Riseborough), her son (Taylor Gregory), and the Rev. David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), the black preacher who sees a lost soul in need of help. The film ends with a scene of baptism and a moment of spiritual transcendence.
And there’s more. Mike Burden was a member of the Ku Klux Klan who was taken under the wing of John Howard (Tom Wilkinson), a Klan leader who treated Mike like a member of the family. In the opening scenes of the film, these two are in the process of rehabbing a movie theater in a black neighborhood of Lauren, South Carolina, to turn it into The Redneck Shop and KKK Museum. The Redneck Shop is regularly protested by Rev. Kennedy and his flock and the Klan finds ways to regularly terrorize and intimidate the black residents of Lauren. According to the film, Mike is eventually encouraged to take a rifle and assassinate the preacher – an assignment that is eventually rejected by Burden just as his relationship with the KKK is beginning to become tenuous. Scorned by his adopted family and kicked out of his living quarters, Mike (along with his girlfriend and her son) is taken in and cared for by Rev. Kennedy.
I don’t want to spoil any of the interesting plot twists, but I would like to mention just a couple of problematic details that the film makers decided to work around as they fashioned their story. Mike Burden wasn’t just a member of the KKK; he was a Grand Dragon. Although Rev. Kennedy actively protested The Redneck Shop and tried to legally force its closure, Kennedy’s New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church held the lease (given to them as a gift from Mike Burden) from 1997 until the eviction of John Howard in 2012. During those years the museum and shop was in full operation, including the 2006 World Congress of the Aryan Nation and the 2009 American Nazi Party / International Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Christmas Party.
At the end of the movie, viewers are encouraged to “help to rebuild The Echo Theater as a center of religious, cultural and racial reconciliation.” A visit to the project’s website is extremely sketchy with little real information beyond the group’s 501(c)(3) status.
The cast is uniformly excellent, including Usher Raymond IV as a childhood friend of Burden. I know that it was a passion project of writer-director Heckler and over 20 years in the making. I am glad that Mike Burden saw the light. The faith of Rev. Kennedy is impressive. But there comes a time when the conversion story of one Klansman attached to a dubious fundraiser can’t wash away the stain of racism that permeates this film as well as daily life. That’s a burden that even a well-meaning movie can’t carry.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: White lives matter, too, but not enough to make me care very much about this race-related inspirational movie. The film gets its two halos for its message of unconditional love.
Four pitchforks: Pervasive swearing, racist language, exploitation of the poor (including the Plantation Concrete “Rent to Own” Company), violence, sexual innuendo, drinking and smoking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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