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‘Strong Island’ Filmmaker Yance Ford Reveals Dire State of Black America: ‘This Is What Systemic Racism Looks Like’

Watch video from the Q&A from the International Documentary Association's 2017 Documentary Screening on Sept. 13.

Strong Island

Yance Ford

If there’s one thing Yance Ford wants the audience to take away from his deeply personal documentary, “Strong Island,” it’s that black lives are in danger in America. His film, which opened the International Documentary Association’s 2017 Documentary Screening series on Wednesday night, tells the story of his unarmed brother’s murder 25 years ago, the lack of prosecution of his killer, and the destructive effect it had on his family in the years following.

In a Q&A following “Strong Island’s” IDA screening, Ford addressed the reaction he hopes audiences will have when they watch his film.

“I hope that audiences understand that there is a precariousness to black lives in this country that we need to address, that there has always been a precariousness to black lives in this country that we need to address,” he said. “In fact, our country is built on the precariousness of black lives, the disposability of black lives.”

Citing the Marshall Project, which studied 400,000 homicides committed by civilians from 2980 to 2014 and concluded that one out of six killings of a black man by a white person will be ruled justifiable (as opposed to the fewer than 2 percent of homicides overall considered justifiable by police), Ford noted that both his grandfather, who died in a segregated hospital waiting room while suffering an asthma attack, and his brother were both victims of racism in America.

“I hope that people understand that we have got to stop this insanity, and I hope that people who live through it will get a sense of affirmation that it’s actually not your imagination. You’ve always been right,” he said, adding, “This is what systemic racism looks like. This is what a broken criminal justice system looks like.”

Ford, who worked as a series producer for the PBS showcase POV before stepping behind the camera himself, also opened up about his creative process.

Of finally deciding to turn the lens on his family, he said, “There was a time when the silence became more difficult to bear than the fear of telling the story.”

Both his mother and sister play large roles in the film, but one of them was almost left on the cutting room floor.

“I’m so protective of Lauren,” he said. “I was like, ‘She’s not going to be in the movie.’ She’s been through so much. We’ve all been through so much…I didn’t want to expose my sister to [scrutiny from strangers].”

Ultimately, however, he realized it would be a mistake to leave his sister out of the film. Plus, his sister’s experience, his mother’s experience, and his father’s experience were all so varied.

“The consequences of my brother’s murder expressed themselves differently in all of us,” he said.

“Strong Island,” which won a special jury prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, hit Netflix on Sept. 15.

The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

Watch clips from the Q&A below:

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