In 2018, audiences at film festivals around the world saw two new films about the Ku Klux Klan. One was Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman – the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black police officer who infiltrated the KKK – and the other was Burden. Lee’s film cast Black actor and budding superstar John David Washington as the protagonist. Burden shows another point of view, focusing on Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) – a white man who has spent his entire life in the Klan, but decides to leave when he falls in love.
Good intentions prop up Burden. The film aims to show that this man, who was one of many who turned the Echo Theatre in Laurens, South Carolina, into the Redneck Shop (a white nationalist clothing store), had realised the error of his ways. He learns empathy from his girlfriend, Judy (Andrea Riseborough), and strives to make up for lost time with the help of the Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), leader of a local Black Baptist church.
Both Hedlund and Whitaker put in robust, convincing performances, but while the film does condemn Mike’s actions, and the Klan more broadly, the end product is frustrating. Burden feels like a prime example of misguided energy, where the focus is placed on a white man learning to repent for a lifetime of evil, rather than praising a Black man who shows kindness.
Elsewhere, Riseborough plays Judy with sensitivity and strength, but is given far too little to work with. She, a single mother raising a son whose best friend is a Black boy, undoubtedly has a rich and complex life, but it is one we rarely witness unless what she is doing has a direct impact on her boyfriend’s life.
Burden has plenty to enjoy – including an unexpected cameo for pop megastar Usher – and its story about a hate-filled man who is transformed by love and faith is remarkable. But it reads like a pat on the back for white people, capable of change if only someone would believe in them. Sadly, it fails to confront painful truths about the lives someone like Mike ruined, even though they left the KKK behind. In contrast, BlacKkKlansman ends with footage from the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in which anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer was murdered by white supremacists. Shocking and visceral, the five minute clip says more about white violence than Burden does in its entire runtime.
- Director: Andrew Heckler
- Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Andrea Riseborough, Forest Whitaker
- Release date: July 6 (Digital)