A bold directorial debut for Gerard McMurray, Burning Sands takes place at a historically black university during Hell Week, where a committed pledge named Zurich (Trevor Jackson) begins to question the tradition as the abuse and violence around him intensifies. Written by McMurray and Christine Berg, the film nicely captures both the allure of pledging (the camaraderie, the promise of post-graduate connections) and the horror (a climactic beat-down in a barn is terrifying). The real hook, however, is the way Burning Sands presents Hell Week through the lens of Frederick Douglass, whose work Zurich happens to be studying in class. By linking the lack of dignity inherent in the institution of slavery with the indignities suffered by the pledges (at the hands of fellow African-Americans, no less), the movie gains a political bite reminiscent of Spike Lee’s School Daze. With Alfre Woodard, Steve Harris, and Trevante Rhodes in supporting parts.