Written by | Ray Cornelius
The sensitive issue of hazing in Black Greek Lettered-fraternities and organizations is brought to life in a new Netflix movie titled, “Burning Sands.” Morehouse College’s Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies Program (CTEMS) hosted an Atlanta screening of the film last night and RC was there to capture all of the sights and sounds. The project is written and directed by the associate producer of “Fruitvale Station” and former CAU film professor—Gerard McMurray. He was also joined by the film’s stars Trevor Jackson and newcomer Christian Robinson.
Christian Robison, Gerard McMurray and Trevor Jackson
“Burning Sands” follows a fraternity pledgee who is torn between honoring a code of silence or standing up against underground hazing. It features Jackson along with iconic screen actress Alfre Woodard, veteran actor Steve Harris, Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes and “Everybody Hates Chris” starlet Imani Hakim. The film, which screened last month to rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival, is executive produced by Oscar winning hip hop star Common. He also performs an original song for the film titled, “The Cross,” with British vocalist Lianne La Havas.
“Burning Sands” is a passion project that McMurray has wanted to produce since working on “Fruitvale Station” with his friend and college buddy Ryan Coogler in 2012. He has always been intrigued by the Black college experience (he’s a graduated from Howard University) and wanted to tell a story from the perspective of a young man pledging a fraternity. He says he shopped the project around and it peaked the interest of a few Hollywood executives. But they ultimately wanted him to tweak the script and McMurray was not having it. It wasn’t until his manager suggested taking the story to Netflix that he got the response he so desired.
“I was teaching film classes at Clark Atlanta University and flying back and forth between Atlanta and L.A. and having meetings. One day one of my producers said, ‘Let’s go to Netflix. They’re giving first time filmmakers and directors an opportunity.’ So we went to Netflix and told them this is what I wanted and how I wanted to do it and how I wanted to tell the story and two weeks later I got the greenlight. So they gave me a budget and I started casting.”
McMurray knew early on that he wanted Jackson to be apart of the film but wasn’t quite sure which role. The two actually met at a Starbucks when Jackson was 15-years-old. However, it wasn’t until he turned 19-years-old that McMurray offered him the leading role of Zurich.
“I mainly wanted to do the film because he [McMurry] is one of the most passionate guys I’ve seen and he knows what he wants,” said the former Lion King star. “It’s easy to work with someone who is clear on their vision but let you have creative freedom. He let me bring Trevor to Zurich and saw him in me.”
McMurray says that he has also received positive and negative feedback about the film from both Greeks and non-Greeks. But more than that, he’s excited about the important dialogue that is happening amongst the organizations and their members.
“We’ve had a few screenings and people were like, ‘Oh I want to show this to my chapter and have a conversation about it.’ And then some people were like straight up mad about it. I actually had one guy waiting for me after showing it at the theater and I had to tell him, ‘Yo this is film not a documentary!’ I told him the he must have an issue with himself and not the film. ‘It’s not like I was showing off secret handshakes or rituals. We’ve seen people eat dog food and get paddled in movies before. This is the way I wanted to tell my story.'”
Look for “Burning Sands” to premiere on Netflix March 10.
Check out more pictures below from the screening and check out Jackson and a few of the film’s other actors talk to the THR about their roles and more:
Dr. Stephane Dunn moderated the panel discussion
Christian Robinson talked about his role in the film
Jackson appeared on Broadway as Simba in “The Lion King”
Christian Robinson, Gerard McMurray,
Dr. Stephane Dunn & Trevor Jackson
“Burning Sands” cast with CAU Students