Burden Parent Guide
Despite its flaws, this film offers a powerful message of forgiveness and transformation that speaks to our turbulent, hate-filled times.
Parent Movie Review
It’s 1996 and Reverend David Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) is preaching the gospel of love to his African American congregation in Laurens, South Carolina. Acknowledging the scourge of racial violence, the good Reverend exhorts his flock to cast away fear and reminds them that “The weapons we use to fight fear, they’re not brutality, they’re not wrath, they’re not hate. They are, and will always be, love.” Those ideals are soon to be put to the test.
Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is a lost soul. Orphaned as a child and now a military veteran, Burden has found a kind of family with Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson), the local leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Burden adopts Griffin’s racist philosophy and throws himself into renovating a dilapidated movie theater into a KKK store and museum. Then Burden meets and falls in love with Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother with a young son. Judy loathes white supremacism and gives Burden an ultimatum: he must choose between her and the Klan. When Burden picks her, the dominos begin to fall and the pair are soon unemployed and homeless. Panhandling for change to buy food, Burden is seen by Reverend Kennedy, who feeds the young family and tries to help Burden rebuild his life. But old habits die hard and the Klan doesn’t wave friendly goodbyes to its erstwhile members…
Based on a true story, Burden, is a moving film with a couple of significant problems. The first is negative content. Obviously, any movie about the Ku Klux Klan is going to contain violence, with scenes of cross burning, physical assault, and a young child being given a knife and told to “cut dark meat”. The violence in the movie is extremely harrowing and might be triggering for some viewers. That said, it’s difficult to make a movie that clearly portrays the horrors of the Klan without including upsetting scenes.
The other problematic content in Burden is profanity, with over 80 swear words, including 33 sexual expletives and a dozen uses of the “n-word”. Again, I have no doubt that the language accurately depicts Mike Burden’s world, but the screenwriters could have significantly reduced the amount of swear words used in the film without sacrificing authenticity.
I was also disappointed with Garrett Hedlund’s performance in the role of Mike Burden. One of the challenges actors face in depicting real people on film is distinguishing between an impersonation and a portrayal. Impersonating someone – perfectly reproducing their appearance, mannerisms, and speech patterns – can actually be less effective than portraying them – putting across a sense of who the person really is. In this movie, Hedlund seems so determined to mimic Burden that he creates a shoulder-rolling, loping gait that unfortunately distracts viewers from the emotional power he brings to the roll. Hedlund convincingly inhabits the role of Mike Burden - psychologically wounded, seeking belonging, hoping for a future for his new family - but as soon as he starts twitching and rolling across the screen, the power of his portrayal dissipates.
Despite these flaws, Burden has a lot to offer, particularly its message of hope, change, and redemption. This isn’t a “Christian film”, but it certainly demonstrates the power of the Christian message of repentance, forgiveness, and transformation. You don’t have to be a believer to hope that more Americans will work together to lift the nation’s centuries-old burden of racism, hate, fear and violence.Directed by Andrew Heckler. Starring Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, and Andrea Riseborough. Running time: 129 minutes. Theatrical release June 9, 2020. Updated August 31, 2020
Watch the trailer for Burden
Rating & Content Info
Why is Burden rated R? Burden is rated R by the MPAA for disturbing violent content, and language throughout including racial epithets.
Violence: There are multiple scenes involving racially motivated violence. In one scene, a Klan member urinates on a black woman from the back of his truck. Klan members in robes and hoods burn crosses. A Klan member jumps out of his truck beats an African American man who is driving in front of him. A white man aims his gun at a black minister. A riot scene involves people fighting. A white man drives his car into a building owned by the KKK. A Klan leader gives a child a knife and tells him to “cut dark meat”. A Klan leader taunts a black man with memories of his uncle, who was lynched. African American men are threatened with death and lynching. A man remembers seeing a deer’s head getting shot off. A man head butts another, causing a nose bleed. Two Klan members break a car window, drag the occupants out and beat them. Then they pour gasoline on the black man and threaten to burn him alive. The men are later seen with cuts and bruises on their faces.
Sexual Content: There are several scenes of a man and woman kissing. There is some sexual innuendo.
Profanity: There are over 80 uses of coarse language in this movie, including 33 sexual expletives (and one sexual hand gesture), 11 scatological curse, eight terms of deity, and nine anatomical curse words. This count includes over a dozen racial slurs aimed at African Americans and a derogatory term for homosexuals. Slang terms for male and female genitalia are used as is a derogatory word for a prostitute.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Several main characters smoke cigarettes frequently. There are frequent scenes of alcohol consumption, and a main character gets drunk at times of stress. On one occasion a main character drives while intoxicated.
Page last updated August 31, 2020
Burden Parents' Guide
How accurate is the movie? Find out here:
Reverend Kennedy is working to transform the KKK store and museum into a community center to celebrate cultural diversity. To learn more and donate to the cause, click below:
Rehabhate: The Echo Project
The Ku Klux Klan cuts a terrible swath through American history. You can learn more about the horrors perpetrated by this group in these sources.
History.com: Ku Klux Klan
Southern Poverty Law Center: Ku Klux Klan
Tom Griffin taunts Reverend Kennedy with the memory of his uncle’s lynching. There are few things for which the KKK is better known and more reviled than its history of lynching African Americans. For more information about this terrible part of American history, check out these links:
Equal Justice Initiative: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror
Equal Justice Initiative: The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Why do people join hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan? How can people get out of them?
Southern Poverty Law Center: Why They Join
Life After Hate: Exit USA
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want the whole story, read Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South by Courtney Hargrave.
Why do people succumb to the hate-filled ideology of the Klan? Christian Picciolini shares his experience with a white supremacist hate group in White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement – and How I Got Out.
An African-American police officer investigates the KKK in Black Klansman: Race: Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime, a memoirby Ron Stallworth.
A history of black oppression after the Civil War is masterfully provided by Henry Louis Gates Jr. in Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow.
A dark history of America’s biggest terrorist movement can be found in Linda Gordon’s The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition.
The most recent home video release of Burden movie is March 28, 2020. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
In Selma, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders organize a march to demand voting rights for African Americans.
Mississippi Burning provides a horrifying look at violent resistance to the civil rights movement in the South.
A white man’s racist opinions are shaken and ultimately changed when he becomes the chauffeur and bodyguard for an African American pianist in Green Book.
In The Best of Enemies, an African-American community leader co-chairs a committee on school desegregation. Her biggest challenge is her co-chair, who’s the local leader of the KKK.