Author Sues Netflix for Allegedly Stealing Plot, Receives Court’s Support
Author Al Quarles Jr. is suing Netflix and Mandalay Entertainment Group for copyright infringement. Twenty years ago, he authored a two-volume book entitled Burning Sands, which depicted the grueling hazing rituals at African American fraternities. A movie by the same name with a very similar plot is now streaming, but Quarles was never informed of Netflix’s intentions to release the film nor has he been compensated or credited for the material in any way. The streaming service argued its version of Burning Sands was substantially different from the book, but a judge recently rejected its arguments.
Quarles is a graduate of Millersville University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree, and Temple University, where he earned a Master Degree in Educational Psychology. He is currently an administrator for homeless and emergency services for the Philadelphia school district. Quarles said he was inspired to write Burning Sands after his experience with the Lambda Tau chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi back in the ‘80s, although the plot is largely fictional.
Quarles’ attorney Bryan Lentz said in the complaint filed in federal court, “The Book is a coming-of-age story about the experiences of 6 young men pledging a fraternity at a rural historically black college. 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.”
The first volume of Quarles’ Burning Sands was released in 2014, two years prior to Netflix’s movie. Among the details the author says are nearly identical between the two are the unusually small number of men pledging, one of them dying after a hazing ritual, and the recital of an Edward Guest poem about perseverance. He feels the eerie similarities in the plot are not accidental. The author also said that the film is shot in a setting “directly” at odds with Howard University but which would be perfectly fitted to Millersville, where he attended, despite the fact that director and co-writer Gerard McMurray went to Howard and is himself an alum of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
McMurray originally claimed in interviews the film was meant to show audiences his experiences pledging Omega Psi Phi at Howard, stating, “I come from this world of going to a HBCU and being in a black fraternity, and I just wanted to explore that subculture. I thought it would be a great film for audiences to see. A lot of people don’t know about HBCUs, black fraternities, and what it’s like to go to a black college, so I thought it was important to dial into that subject matter and explore themes of our history in this country, [and] what it’s like to be a black man in America.”
Quarles is requesting that the federal court prohibit both Mandalay and Netflix from selling, licensing or developing any future works from his book. He is seeking damages as well as any profits generated from the film. The denial of Netflix’s motion brings him one step closer.