What lifts the Burden in new historical drama about racism?
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It’s not a pretty sight: “Redneck KKK Museum” spelled out in big letters across a marquee. The year is 1996, and the Klan of Laurens, S.C., has refurbished a theater to display its pointed hoods, lynching photos, and other hateful memorabilia. The scene opens Burden, a new film based on an actual confrontation between a Klansman and a pastor.
The gritty film landed a major prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival but has trouble pinpointing the real source of redemption.
Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) grew up amid poverty and prejudice. He comes under the influence of the local KKK leader (Tom Wilkinson). They open the museum but face protests from Baptist Pastor David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker).
KKK members spew vile speech and carry out despicable acts. (The R-rated film contains violent content and strong language.) Meanwhile, a frustrated Kennedy begins to preach what he wants to practice: “Jesus Christ said to love your enemies. But when it’s time to fight, we will fight.”
Burden falls in love with a woman (Andrea Riseborough) who tells him to choose between her and the Klan. He begins to regret his negative influence on her young son, but quitting the Klan is dangerous.
What transforms Burden? The “love of a good white woman,” as one critic gibes?
Kennedy’s kindness? Per the film, take your pick. But another reviewer unwittingly stumbles onto something: “Mike’s eventual baptism feels unearned given [his] brutish behavior.”
Thanks to Jesus, that’s the truth.
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