‘The Burial’: Exposing an exploitative funeral company and confronting a painful American past

09/29/23 By Nia Harmon and Stevie Massengale

“Pride, prejudice and greed” is the name of the court battle game in the new movie “The Burial.” Inspired by true events, the film follows the lives of flashy lawyer Willie E. Gary and southern funeral home mogul Jeremiah Joseph O’Keefe III on their mission to take down the funeral home empire Loewen Group, LLC.

Throughout the course of the two-hour and six-minute movie, viewers accompany Gary, played by Jamie Foxx, and O’Keefe, played by Tommy Lee Jones, on the complex journey of navigating race relations, preserving their legacies and getting justice for the Black Americans who were victims of predatory pricing by the Loewen Group that exploited poor, grieving Black families in across Mississippi. 

The overarching theme of the film exposes the rampant greed people in power tend to maintain. This David-and-Goliath story shows how far companies will go to take down the “little guys” through deception, while trying to present a charitable image. These powerful entities live a life of opulence and wealth, which is hidden from the vulnerable. 

“They didn’t have a typical lawyer, so I wanted to see how they would pull it off,” said moviegoer Paula Diggs.

Calling himself “The Giant Killer,” going head-to-head with the Loewen Group for two months in court was not the only giant Willie E. Gary found himself having to slay. 

Born into sharecropping in Eastman, Georgia, on July 12, 1947, and eventually moving to Florida, Gary worked in the sugar cane fields alongside his parents as a young boy. After marrying and starting a family with his childhood sweetheart Gloria, Gary’s denial of housing based on discrimination at an apartment complex inspired him to become a lawyer, according to the movie.

Aside from the impeccable acting, stunning visuals and intimate tight shots that drew viewers in, the movie takes the underlying issue of racism in the case even deeper. 

Scattered throughout the American South are unmarked slave burial sites, where the bodies of loved ones subjected to inhumanity at the highest degree lay unmarked, unknown, and in some cases — such as at Clemson University — built on top of. 

Upon standing across from a field of unmarked graves in Southern Mississippi in the film, the reality of continual injustice — now in the form of monopolizing funeral homes and hiking burial costs — sets in, reinvigorating Gary and his legal counsel to not back down in the heat of an intense court battle.

“Visually, you could feel the energy,” said Myles Kiyanda, a junior visual media arts major at Emerson College, after watching the screening. “It was the right balance of education, funniness and empowerment.”

If you are hesitant about seeing a moving surrounding legal drama, this story is not designed to bore you but rather showcases the power of humanity and love. 

“The Burial” was released in theaters on Friday, Oct. 6.