Netflix Accused of Stealing 'Burning Sands' Story in New Lawsuit

An author and educator says the film is based on his book of the same name.
Courtesy of Netflix
Trevor Jackson (left) and Steve Harris in Netflix's 'Burning Sands'

Netflix original film Burning Sands is at the center of a lawsuit from an author who says the pic is based on a book he wrote about hazing at black fraternities.

Al Quarles Jr. is suing Netflix and Mandalay Entertainment Group for copyright infringement, claiming he spent nearly two decades writing a two-volume book called Burning Sands only to have the streaming giant create an original film based on his work without giving him credit or compensation. 

Quarles, an administrator of homeless and emergency services for the Philadelphia school district, says the book was inspired by his experiences with the Lamda Tau chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity in the late 1980s but isn't based on real people or events.

"The Book is a coming-of-age story about the experiences of 6 young men pledging a fraternity at a rural historically black college," writes attorney Bryan Lentz in the complaint, filed Monday in Pennsylvania federal court. "In addition to the identical title and setting, the Book and the Film contain elements that are virtually identical, including characters with the same names and plot-points crafted to convey identical meanings and representations."

Volume I of Quales' book, titled My Brother's Keeper, was released in 2014 — which he says was a full two years before the screenwriters finished their script.

While co-writer and director Gerard McMurray attended Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., Quarles says the rural setting of the film is "directly at odds" with McMurray's urban college experience but is "strikingly similar" to his own at Millersville University in Lancaster, Penn.

Among the plot points Quarles says are nearly identical are the unusually small number of men pledging the fraternity, one of them dying because of hazing and the recital of an Edward Guest poem about perseverance — all centering on a theme of "the tragic irony of the fact that these young black men put themselves through this brutal process in order to join an elite club of networked, successful black male professionals."

Quarles is asking the court to enjoin Netflix and Mandalay from marketing, selling, licensing or developing any works derived from his book and is seeking damages as well as any profits defendants made from the film. 

Netflix, Mandalay and McMurray did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint, which is posted in full below.