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Screengrab of “Burning Cane”

Why Netflix’s “Burning Cane” Is The Beauty That Intensifies Life’s Betrayals

Minor spoilers

First off, we have to give props to the breathtaking genius of Phillip Youmans, the 19-year-old filmmaker whose stunning debut, Burning Cane, that affectingly captures the enduring complexities facing broken victims of life’s venomous vices, is ceremoniously blowing the minds of more revered storytellers like Ava DuVernay, who acquired the rights for distribution via production hub, Array Releasing.

The critically-acclaimed film possesses the relevant substances of the independent films that dominated the nineties and early aughts. Those rare gems were primarily executed to captivate audiences into the mechanisms of voyeuristic indulgence.

As we accommodate the urgent festiveness of exhaustive film franchises and TV reboots, we rarely have the ability to briefly lose ourselves in the world that’s created for unparalleled escapism.

It’s the makeshift destination that reveals itself in both the light and the dark of scenes, and stoically replaces what’s been take away under the guidance of a remarkably tactful auteur.

It’s no wonder that Burning Cane secured the prize for best narrative feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which was the historic feat for Youmans, as the youngest filmmaker to ever have an entry accepted, and the first-ever Black filmmaker to receive that particular award.

It’s so easy to get carried away by this climate of extremes that collides with the trending train, journeying to the ports that retain that mandatory rule of inclusivity.

Suddenly the very thing that Hollywood willfully excluded from the blueprint of global viability, has become the sensationalistic indulgence that prominent players in the game are desperately vying for with the aggression that signals threats of imminent reversal.

This disingenuous approach when it comes to the investment in ambitious projects with an all-Black cast, that used to be assigned to categories that saw an early demise, is the main reason why Youmans’ love letter to the culture that groomed him is endearingly poignant, due to the timing of it’s release, and the coordinated shepherding by well-positioned members of an insecure industry.

DuVernay’s involvement was inspired by her acute reaction to a piece of excellence, that brims with the solace of supreme stripping, of all that holds us back from feeling the desirousness of harrowing moments, that are elegantly set up to align our emotional proximity with the beating hearts that eventually match our rhythm.

“I appreciate films that allow me to be there with the characters. There’s something about the luxurious nature of the film that slowly unfolds and allows you to live with it.”


Those were the exact notes that were written in my head after surrendering to the offering that Netflix wisely snatched up for streaming earlier this month. The experience of getting readily sucked into the tempo of a distinct style of filmmaking that births the signature moves of the iconic auteurs of our time was refreshingly calming and spiritually fulfilling.

Truth be told, Burning Cane may leave some viewers with the emptiness that stems from the disconnect that prevents bonding with a potently masterful delivery, that relies heavily on the sight and sounds of human behavior, against the backdrop of sedated imagery that dictates the calling of experimental conveyors.

The barebones method that Youmans delights in can only handle a handful of astute cast-members, including the majestic Wendall Pierce, the most recognizable face, who also co-produced the film.

Pierce plays the role of the embattled Pastor Tillman, who is the minister of a church, where a god-fearing woman named Helen dutifully worships. It’s through the piercing pain of Helen’s existence that we comprehend the burden of struggles that forces her inhuman strength to face off with the demons responsible for her son’s life-long turbulence.

The seductively primal vibes of New Orleans produces the fitting landscape of activities that are heightened by the stringent themes of Southern attributes, which are laced with devout religious tolerance, that can’t be substituted by the enlightenment that releases chains of stoic bondage.

The main vines that echo throughout are embedded in the disease of alcoholism, and how the suffocating effects extend past the weathered manipulators, who have to be coddled by the embrace of their unfairly assaulted victims, who end up suffering more for what they didn’t wrought.

Karen Kaia Livers embodies the authenticity that gives Helen the heart-rending characteristics that behold an aging Black woman, who is mercilessly handled by the unwavering enslavement to the teachings of the church, and the harmful messengers, who are in no shape to practice what they preach.

The glaring fallibility enhances the damning evidence of how a local preacher with a nasty dependency on alcohol, that often gets him in trouble, is no match for the formidable adornment of denial that permits the suffocating dysfunction, that’s enabled by strong believers like Helen, who faithfully arrives on the scene for the rescue in the name of the Lord.

Helen’s adult son, Dominique, played with frightening consciousnesses by Daniel Wayne, is also pathetically wedded to the blasted bottles that violently alters his mood in ways that threateningly hamper his relationship with his mother, and the obliging young boy, who has to contend with the menacing tendencies of his inebriated father.

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The striking elements of Burning Cane are profoundly elevated by the loudness of movements in the precise mannerisms of a weathered matriarch, who is the living symbolism of the maddening rituals that still regulate rural kingdoms, that are soaked in the destructive spells of misogynistic identifiers, that ultimately rule the traditionally stained pulpits.

It’s the convergence of trained abuse that begins at the fragility of inception, and spurts into the branches of punctured wounds, with the blood that seeps into the orifices of generational baggage, that only gets weightier with time, from the deep loss exacted from lack of trust, that not even God Almighty can fix.

Helen’s long-standing task of being the version of the savior that she’s still waiting on, with the detached candor that can only be achieved through the euphoric tidings of heavenly sway, is righteously relatable to those who’ve had enough exposure to that specific belief system.

The strong undertones of religious traitorousness at its weakest and most brutal, and how that propels Youmans infusion of his own personal entanglements as a youngster, trapped in his seat, while listening to lethal sermons that demonize the unholiness of those who dare to be God’s children in the flesh — inevitably summons the baptismal cleansing of my ongoing qualms with the audacity of Christianity.

When we think of imprisonment, the visuals are usually reliant on barricades that restrict freedom.

Philip Youmans wandering gaze is disciplined enough to capture every shot with visible nakedness that encourages the audience to boldly step into the daunting frames, with the authority that’s both spellbinding and richly definable to willing participants.

It’s fascinating to imagine the maturity of a burgeoning storyteller, who is incredibly married to the winning formula of flushing out the debris, by magnifying the gliding interference of supersized objects of disruption, and studying how those circulating interactions tragically lead to the recycled landscape of rage and defeat.

The testament of Burning Cane has to be the seductive nature of a desolate canvas, that comes alive with the deadening of relations.

The graphic sparring featuring the simplicity of climatic characteristics, engaging in the metaphorical dance of unmasked disillusionment is the perfect homage to insufferable godliness

Youmans instinctual transparency is the epicenter of his power, which explains the expertise that reverberates the porosity of his primed lenses

The palpable beauty that intensifies life’s betrayals can always be found in the predictable areas of vital temptations, that keep mental rovers very busy, juggling various personas to suit the distressing years leading to judgment day.

Phillip Youmans definitely gets it.

The only way to extract the heartfelt response to a film that sorrowfully presents the rites of passage in a damaged bubble, that can’t satisfyingly combust due to decades of bloated grief, is to task cinematic voyeurs to reconcile their trials and tribulations with the surrounding occupants in our view.

The only way to feel anything, is to truly feel something, and Burning Cane burns you, way after you’ve been released, many thanks to the stealthily orchestrated pull, that verifies Youmans as the crowned wunderkind of this emerging class of young visionaries.

Let the amazingness continue!

Here’s more with Phillip Youmans and Ava DuVernay:

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