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Review: Black fraternity drama ‘Burning Sands’ rehashes abusive hazing rituals

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That picked-over sub-genre known as the frat hazing drama (see 2016’s “Goat”) finds a new pledge in “Burning Sands,” but aside from being set at a black college, this achingly earnest first feature by Gerard McMurray really adds nothing new to the rites-of-passage syllabus.

“It’s all about the brotherhood,” declares Zurich (Trevor Jackson), a Frederick Douglass University freshman intent on seeing through what his father wasn’t able to complete by getting initiated into the Lambda Phi fraternity.

For the record:

4:37 a.m. May 21, 2024An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the film “Dear White People” took place on an African American campus. It is set at a fictional Ivy League school.

First, of course, he must get through Hell Week, and although there are strict anti-hazing policies in place, they ultimately fail to shield Z and his buddies from suffering the usual abuses at the hands of those increasingly sadistic frat brothers, forcing him to reassess his moral obligations.

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Director McMurray may have taken a more studious approach than did Spike Lee in “School Daze,” a social satire set on an African American campus, but he and co-writer Christine Berg have internalized Z’s journey at the expense of deeper character development and creating any mounting tension.

It’s well-acted — Alfre Woodard and Steve Harris are among the faculty members — and impressively photographed by Isiah Donté Lee, but in the absence of a more dramatically dynamic approach to that awfully familiar subject matter, “Burning Sands” proves neither as incendiary nor as challenging as intended.

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‘Burning Sands’

Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

Playing: iPic Theaters, Westwood; also on VOD

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