Burning Sands is a Netflix original film that centers around a college student named Zurich who is pledging to a prestigious fraternity. This movie takes place at a historically Black university and chronicles the brutal hazing process that fraternity pledges undergo. Zurich, along with four other pledges, has very personal reasons for wanting to be part of this fraternity and is willing to withstand any kind of treatment to be accepted. The movie starts off with the freshmen pledges in the forest in the middle of the night; they are doing strenuous exercise as a brother oversees and occasionally strikes them. This results with Zurich’s rib being fractured. Throughout the film, Zurich downplays his injury even though he is clearly in a lot of pain.
An interesting aspect of the film is that it becomes clear that many of the university faculty, including the Dean, are aware of the fraternity’s hazing practices but choose not to do anything about it. There are multiple points throughout the film in which Zurich is on the brink of confessing the hazing he is enduring but an authority figure tells him that what he is experiencing is part of the “tradition.”
Tradition is a recurring theme throughout the film. It seems that all the acts committed by this fraternity can be excused under the pretense of tradition. Hypermasculinity also plays a huge part in keeping the hazing under wraps. Pledges are afraid that if they report it, they will be seen as weak. In order to be masculine, the pledges believe that they must endure the atrocious acts committed against them to prove their worth.
“Hell Night” is the last night of Hell Week and takes place before initiation for the pledges who made it up until that point. On this night, pledges are beaten, tormented, humiliated, and forced to eat dog food. During this process, one of the pledges collapses and begins foaming from the mouth. The President of the fraternity orders the pledges to leave the fallen pledge at the ER and not let themselves be seen. Zurich, however, decides to defy him and stay in the hospital with his fellow pledge. The film concludes with all of the pledges waiting for their friend in the ER.
Unfortunately, occurrences like this are not a rarity. Just two years ago, Penn State was under under fire after a freshman student died of brain damage during a pledging ritual. Daniel Li, one of the fraternity members who faces third-degree murder charges states, “In actuality, the national fraternity knew very well that hazing went on.”
UC Merced Sorority and Fraternity life is committed to providing a safe environment free of hazing and harassment for all of its students. Here is a statement from the official UCM website: “All group activities must respect the dignity of an individual. Any activity which is demeaning, embarrassing, or mentally or physically injurious to an individual or group is considered hazing and is not permitted by the University or State of California.” Therefore, some universities like ours are taking the effective steps to decrease hazing and making the safety of the students their priority.