Strong Island

Director: Yance Ford
2016 | USA | 107m
GENRE: Black/African American | Death/Dying | Documentary | Female-to-Male | Human Rights | Mystery/Thriller | Racism | Transgender | Violence
SECTION: Documentary
Expected Guests: Director, Yance Ford & Executive Producer, Danny Glover

Strong Island is slang for Long Island, where filmmaker Yance Ford and his family grew up. Having fled the racism of the Jim Crow South during the 1960s, his parents hoped they would be freer from institutionalized injustice in their new neighborhood. But two weeks before the Rodney King riots, Yance’s 24-year-old-brother, William, was murdered by a white 19-year-old car mechanic. The killer, Mark Reilly, didn’t just get away with the crime; his fabrication—he claimed self-defense, though William was unarmed—allowed the grand jury to label him a victim and Yance’s brother the perpetrator of his own death. The Ford family retreated from this baffling miscarriage of justice into a prolonged period of silent grief and simmering anger—until now.

Strong Island, so devastatingly clear-eyed in its formal and emotional directness, finds filmmaker Yance Ford in front of his own camera, piecing together the wreckage brought about by that fateful night in 1992. He revisits the police reports, and even attempts to get answers from the chief prosecutor of the case. The investigation gives way to stirring anecdotes regarding race and gender, through interviews with the surviving Ford family members and, most potently, through Yance himself, a transmasculine artist whom his brother knew only as a younger sister. Executive-produced by Danny Glover and Laura Poitras (CitizenFour) and winner of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Storytelling, Strong Island is a piercing work of self-reflection.

— HARRY VAUGHN

Photo by: © Yanceville Films