When “Strong Island” won the Gotham Award for best documentary earlier this week, it quickly became a top contender for the rest of awards season. Ford’s deeply personal film attempts to discover the truth behind his brother’s tragic death in 1992 at the hands of a white teenager, unearthing family history as he goes. At a recent screening of the film in San Francisco, Ford sat onstage with Danny Glover Professor Angela Davis, where the group spoke powerfully about the broader implications of the film.
Since the film deals with a personal tragedy, Ford is often asked if making it was cathartic. “I don’t feel like a hero,” he said. “I don’t feel like this is an exercise in catharsis, there’s nothing special about my family. In 1992, 11,195 black men were murdered in the United States. My brother is not counted among that number, because his case did not ever go to trial.”
Davis added her two cents: “This film makes me reflect on the ordinariness of what happened to William… In a sense the whole film is about gender and what has been called ‘toxic masculinity.'” In the film, Ford, who is transgender, grapples with regret over never speaking to his brother about his gender identity.
Glover said the movie “resonates personally to [him] in so many ways,” adding that it grasped, “All the things that we fail to understand, and the real nuances around the issue of race and the impact it has on people.”
Ford had the final word, summing up the film’s core almost as poetically as the images onscreen. “There is this perception…that there is no aggression on one side and all aggression on the other side. When in fact there are these minimized acts of aggression and these elevated acts of aggression and in between that shift we have introduced justifiable homicide.”
Watch the moving and candid discussion below:
“Strong Island” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is currently streaming on Netflix.
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