Parents' Guide to

Burning Sands

By Brian Costello, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Violent movie about fraternity hazing; cursing, sex.

Movie NR 2017 96 minutes
Burning Sands Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 17+

Based on 1 parent review

age 17+

Real, Insightful, Not for faint of heart

While some won't consider this a family movie, this really depends on the ages of your kids and what you consider valuable as a family. There's definitely graphic violence (paddling, hitting, kicking, etc. which results in injury), swearing and sex (a short scene with a partially naked couple along with some sounds and such in other parts of the movie). Since it's about college fraternities it's likely okay for older teens who can watch 17+ stuff and/or those entering or in college. The movie itself tackles a really tough topic with many layers, weaving deep insights about belonging, history, staying strong in the face of challenge, what that means and can bring that's both bad and good. All of the acting is stellar really, each playing their part of the whole to create a picture we can learn from. I feel there are plenty of positive messages shared about relationships, belonging, honesty, brotherhood, personal integrity and more, but the review here doesn't really hone in on them. The focus is much more on the violence and negative messages, which are plentiful as well, but the positive insights along the way shed light on them in subtle and ways. A couple of poignant Frederick Douglas quotes are woven through and even the very ending points to the main character's inner commitment, which of course shows itself when things get very rough. So, don't watch it with kids who it's not appropriate for, but if you want a movie that's real (although somewhat sensationalized of course) and tells a story of African-American fraternities working to create belonging and community (and sometimes take it too far), open your mind and watch the movie. It's not for the faint of heart, though, it's for those who want to understand - and those who are interested in positive change.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1):
Kids say (1):

This movie literally pulls no punches in its graphic portrayal of the beat-downs and humiliations pledges must endure during the "Hell Week" of an African-American fraternity. There's no sugarcoating during scene after scene of excessive hazing, and the realities of collegiate sex, drinking, and parties are shown. The acting and story are skillfully delivered, with a clear sense of what's at stake for the lead character Zurich, and why he's willing to endure a broken rib, intense bullying, and compromised values in the interests of joining an elite fraternity. The role of the fraternity in the African-American community, past and present, is clearly shown.

That said, what's missing in Burning Sands is character depth in the fraternity brothers engaged in these violent acts. In a film where the pledges, the adult authority figures, and the promiscuous party girl who is ordered and happily volunteers to sleep with each of the pledges are given enough space to show who they are and their motivations, there's no such depth to the frat brothers. With the exception of one brother who puts a stop to the hazing when it goes too far, the other brothers are little more than sadists, drunk on power. It seems like a missed opportunity -- if the adults in the movie are shown to be permissive and oblivious of a tradition that has gone in a horrible direction, there certainly could have been much more humanity shown in the perpetrators of the acts. They could have been shown to be just as wrapped up in the peer pressure and conformity-at-all-costs mindset that got everyone to this point; instead, they come across as two-dimensional bullies who beat up the weak and talk down to women. Best for older teens and adults.

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