Forest Whitaker, Garrett Hedlund, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Tess Harper
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…a film about Black suffering designed for white self-gratification.
Told with the buttery, nay, insensitive, sensibilities of 2018’s Green Book, historical-drama Burden is a film about Black suffering designed for white self-gratification.
Based on the real-life story of small-town South Carolinian debt-collector Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), a reformed Ku Klux Klansman who accepts refuge in the house belonging to Black rights activist Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), the film takes to contrasting extreme ideologies to craft a rumination on class, masculinity, and racism in rural America.
Problematic storytelling elements – ‘white-man-learning’ and ‘magical-negro’ tropes – exist within Burden as misguided attempts to depict ‘history’. Andrew Heckler – who makes his writing and directorial debut – appears pushed by a desire to present progressivism, not as a form of righteousness, but as a response to despondency.
Even when Burden attempts to evoke distress by re-enacting the racial injustice of ‘90s America, the brunt of which still exists in present-day, the film becomes undercut by the perpetual use of lingering face shots of Klansmen to denote some inkling of remorse. The film sets its sights on offering a skerrick of hope that these figures have capacity to change, with Klansmen, even if for a moment, having the ability to comprehend the weight of their abuse. This, to the detriment of the film, inappropriately offers sympathy to problematic figures.
Supporting characters, including love-interest Judy (Andrea Riseborough), and head Klansman and proprietor of a newly acquired Klan museum (Tom Wilkinson) fall asunder to cardboard characterisation.
As Americans bravely protest against racial inequality, Burden’s optimism is well-intentioned, but becomes diffused by Heckler’s presentation of racism through the lens of a white character’s moral redemption.
The film, much like its title, becomes burdened by a history of filmmaking that whitewashes Black narrative.