BURDEN IS HEAVY WITH STEREOTYPES
Based on an event in Laurens, South Carolina, Andrew Heckler directs Burden as a unique portrayal of Blacks and KuKluxKlan members living side by side in a town of about 9,000 during 1996. The focus is on Mike Burden (played by Garrett Hedlund), a Caucasian who has returned to town as a combat hero. As a kid, he played with Black kids who are now grown up. He falls in love with single mom Judy Harbeson (Angela Riseborough), whose child is doing the same. Tom Griffin, the KKK head (Tom Wilkinson), has decided to reopen a moviehouse as an KKK museum, and he hands the deed to the property to Mike, claiming that he will keep the tradition going when he dies. But Mike has been in combat alongside African Americans, something that he does not mention but perceptive filmviewers will realize bothers him. However, the KKK accepts Griffin’s view that somehow Whites are losing their rightful place in American society. Meanwhile, in another part of town Reverend Kennedy (Forrest Whitaker) preaches “love your enemy” sermons and leads peaceful street protests as the answer to KKK hateful rhetoric. Judy, Mike learns, is repelled by White supremacist talk and later asks him to abandon the KKK to continue the relationship.
The contrast between KKK members and Kennedy’s Black family and parishioners underlies much of the narrative in several ways: Blacks are well dressed, have excellent manners, are articulate, and work hard for a living. KKK Whites are grubbily dressed, extremely rude, speak almost incoherently, and seem quite lazy and reckless. Filmviewers will readily conclude that Whites feel that they have lost in competition with the model minority of Blacks and band together, hoping that they can get back what they “lost” through a revival of the memory of KKK terrorism, including burning crosses and the “n” word.
The critical part of the film occurs when Mike tells Griffin that he is no longer a Klansman. Mike then suffers discrimination even more severe than Blacks, starting with eviction for nonpayment of rent. Kennedy houses him in his son’s room (who does not object), and helps him to find a job with a Black contractor. Mike still has difficulty with racial tensions. Then Mike sells the moviehouse to Kennedy, who begins to shut down the KKK museum as the film ends. During credits, videos of the actual persons are on the screen along with the eloquent song Burden, containing words that should have been subtitled.
The Political Film Society has nominated Burden as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2020. MH