Berlinale-Strong Island

Black and Paper interview with Director Yance Ford.

“Strong Island” is a documentary that is topical on a social and historical, the shooting of an unharmed African American Man followed by a criminal justice system that vilifies a person of color with a “Guilty Label” regardless of the circumstances and ultimate outcome.  The 107 minute film investigates the 1992 murder of Mr. Ford’s older brother, William Ford Jr, who was involved in an altercation with car mechanic Mark Reilly.   

The Limo at the scene of the crime, chop shop, while the police were there, was there a mafia connection to the garage?

No, it was not Mafia.  The limo’s owner was the father of the owner of the garage. He was a wealthy builder.   I put these pieces together of what happened that night.  There was no proof concerning who was in the limo at the time.  The guy who shot my brother called his father first, then the police.   Funny enough Mark Reilly is now in prison for dumping illegal materials.

The Red Lining in your neighborhood, was this a form of segregation? 

Yes, of course! It was institutionalized.  This structure or form of segregation started with the GI Bill.  African American soldiers could not take total advantage of the bill. There were restrictive clauses, where you buy, what articles did not apply based on skin color selling, buying, and reselling housing.  My Black colleagues have had this experience but my White colleagues are in shock.  They are surprised because they have never known this.

Was your brother the victim of same script different cast, unharmed African American, armed white man?

That has been the script for generations.  My grandfather died of an asthma attack because he had to wait in the hospital waiting area because he was Black.  It is a script as old as America.

The police description of the hyper black body; powerful, oversize, strong, all of the words pointed to aggression, aggressive.  None of  “facts” added up. The autopsy report and pictures were not aligned.   The guy shot my brother because he could.  It was easy to take a Black Life.

“Judge People by Character not Color” was a quote from your mother in the film; did your mother question this value assumption after your brother’s death?

Yes! She was devastated. It was a realization.   Character not color does not apply when you are Black.  My mother has been 2nd guessing herself ever since, did she do her son a disservice by teaching him what Dr. King taught.  She did not think it was mistake until after police investigation, wrestling with this feeling of “what if”.

Why aren’t you angry?

The look on my face in the film was irony.   I think about the loss of my brother everyday.

If you had told your parents about your brother’s first incident do you think history would have been different?

I don’t know! I try not to think about that.

Strong Island was screened by Black and Paper in the Panorama Section of the 67th Berlinale.