A brief look at director Yance Ford’s Life

“I never told William I was queer. I wish I had,” regrets Yance Ford, as he revisits the days leading up to the murder of his 24-year-old brother by a 19-year-old white mechanic. Yance became the first transgender director to win an Oscar nomination in the 90 years of the Academy Awards (Strong Island is nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category). It’s not a film that explores the complexities of gender and sexual identity of a black teenage girl. It could have been, if not for the cold-blooded killing of Yance’s elder brother. On April 7, 1992, William Ford, Jr. was shot by Mark Reilly. The sudden death left the Ford family devastated, but they maintained faith in the U.S judicial system. “Just wait till we get to court,” said William’s mother, Barbara Dunmore Ford, as she buried her son. But justice was never served: a grand jury of 23 white people decided that the case was not worthy of being heard. It was a case of self-defence, they declared. Two decades later, as Barbara looks unflinchingly into the camera, she tells Yance, who is filming her, “I will die believing the jury didn’t care because my son was a man of colour.” In 2012, she died, holding on to that belief. Made over 10 years, Strong Island is not an investigative documentary of what went down that night but a mirror to the injustice that followed. It’s a personal and haunting chronicle of what it is like to be black in modern-day America, and how the colour of your skin can decide your destiny, even beyond your lifetime.

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