Burning Sands, directed by Gerard McMurray, addresses the hazing traditions in a black, Greek fraternity and the myriad of issues that come with it. The film was released March 10 on Netflix and follows the story of pre-med student Zurich Condoll (Trevor Jackson) and his future line brothers as they go through the underground initiation process at Lambda Lambda Phi, the famous black fraternity at Frederick Douglas University.
Zurich strives to finish what his father never did and make him proud by successfully pledging Lambda Lambda Phi. The only thing that is standing in his way is Hell Week and Hell Night, the arduous, underground hazing ceremony every Lambda Lambda Phi member must pass to join the fraternity.
Throughout this pledging process, the physical, psychological, and emotional thresholds of Zurich and his line brothers are put to the test. The veteran members of his fraternity preach that humility breeds humbleness, so therefore the hazing traditions are meant to bring humbleness and respect to the future members. However, Zurich soon discovers that there are things more valuable, such as true brotherhood, than joining the ranks of a respected HBCU fraternity.
Hazing in sororities and fraternities is a nationwide problem. Over the last few years, numerous cases of deaths and injuries caused by hazing have arisen. In 1990, black Greek organizations nationwide prohibited pledging and hazing in their fraternities and sororities. But instead of eradicating the practice, hazing simply went “underground,” out of view from the public.
Burning Sands is a call to action for black fraternities and sororities to completely leave the act of hazing in the past. Professor Hughes (Alfre Woodard) is a mentor to Zurich, who sees his potential to turn around Lambda Lambda Psi by ridding it of hazing and returning the organization to one focused on community, scholarship, and service.
While hazing can occur in Greek organizations of all backgrounds and ethnicities, the issue of hazing in black Greek organizations is a nuanced one. With the rise of Black Lives Matter in direct response to the high rate of people of color killed by police officers, can one claim to want justice and protection for black and brown bodies, if those same bodies are being punished and harassed in organizations created to serve black communities?
Calling attention to the dangerous and potentially fatal tradition of hazing in black organizations is in no way meant to detract from the injustice of racially motivated police brutality. However, a call for Black Lives Matter should apply to all institutions, no matter the purveyor of the injustice.