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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Burden is based on real-life events that occurred in a small town in South Carolina in 1996. The story centers on Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), a troubled man who was influenced by Ku Klux Klan leader Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson). As they prepare to open a museum celebrating the Klan's legacy, racial tensions rise in their community. The movie includes disturbing race-related violence: People are badly beaten, and there's talk of lynchings. Expect to hear many racial slurs, including "coon" and the "N" word. Other strong language includes "s--t," "f--k," and "ass." Adults are taught to hate based on skin color, and there are scenes in which children are encouraged to be racist, too. But there are also moments of friendship that transcend race, and the movie has themes of compassion, empathy, humility, the power of love, and the influence of prayer.
What's the story?
When a museum celebrating the Ku Klux Klan opens in a small South Carolina town in 1996, the nonviolent, kindhearted Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) decides to do everything he can to prevent racial tension in his small community. But when the members of Kennedy's family learn that Klansman Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) -- a man whom many of them consider to be an enemy -- is taking shelter in the pastor's home, things begin to change for both men. Burden's relationship with single mom Judy (Andrea Riseborough) and a run-in with childhood classmate Clarence (Usher Raymond) force him to reevaluate his racist beliefs. And the respectable, genuine Kennedy tries to hold the community together with a spirit of love and tolerance, but will that be enough?
Is it any good?
This drama offers a candid glimpse into the lives of many people in the South who are still coping with a racist society. While it's hard to believe that the events portrayed in Burden happened as recently as 1996, the film does a good job of showing how racist attitudes are ingrained in people's minds and passed from one generation to the next. Mike Burden's experiences with psychological trauma and emotional turmoil support the idea that racist attitudes and actions corrode the perpetrator's psyche and soul nearly as much as they affect the victims. As he rises through the ranks of the KKK, Mike begins to feel the weight of operating with an attitude of hate. And through the acts of Reverend Kennedy, viewers get a glimpse of some of the more intimate struggles that genuine pastors have -- especially the need to balance God's call with their own personal family relationships. This is a pastor who's far more than just talk: He's committed to pleasing God with his actions. He shows what it really means to love your neighbor as yourself.
As Burden, Hedlund is amazing to watch. He has an on-screen vulnerability that makes you want to see him change. As Kennedy, Whitaker is superb, beautifully portraying a pastor who cares about others' souls and livelihoods without expecting anything in return. Riseborough does a fine job as Judy; it's her unconditional love that serves as a catalyst for Mike's inner change. And Usher Raymond is believable as Clarence -- through his character, viewers see how friendship has the power to teach and break generational thought patterns. Yes, we've seen stories like this before, but Burden does a great job of showcasing the beauty of youth and how often it's adults who contaminate children's destinies by passing along poisoned mindsets and habits. In Burden, an emotionally wounded man is granted the grace to change, and this makes up for some of its cinematic flaws.
Talk to your kids about ...
Do you consider Reverend Kennedy a role model? Do his actions have a positive or negative effect on his community? In what ways does he show compassion, humility, and empathy toward others in the film?
In what ways does the movie show the Black community's and the KKK community's view of the cross as similar? In what ways are their views of the cross depicted as different?
Judy is a single, impoverished mom who's rich in integrity, compassion, and humility. In what ways does she make a valuable impact despite having less than many people? In what way is she a role model for her young son?
Talk about the role that the KKK played in America's history. Why do you think the KKK was effective? How was the organization connected to the infrastructure of society?
- In theaters: February 28, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: June 23, 2020
- Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker
- Director: Andrew Heckler
- Studio: 101 Studios
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Humility
- Run time: 129 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: disturbing violent content, and language throughout including racial epithets
- Last updated: June 22, 2020
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