Ava DuVernay, Alfre Woodard, EP Danny Glover turn out for special screening of Oscar-shortlisted 'Strong Island'
Yance Ford's film about his brother's death asks, 'Whose fear in America is actually reasonable?'
With Oscar nomination voting set to close on Friday, documentary contender Strong Island screened for an audience that included some of Hollywood's leading talents.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, actress Alfre Woodard and Danny Glover, executive producer of Strong Island, were among the luminaries at Estrella in West Hollywood Monday night. They joined director Yance Ford, producer Joslyn Barnes and Lisa Nishimura, vice president at Netflix, which released the documentary.
I feel this film transcends so much of the clutter that I hear around conversations to do with the criminal justice system, in a way that is so elegant and so graceful.
The film, one of 15 to make the Oscar documentary shortlist, is the searingly personal story of the death of the director's older brother, William Ford Jr., and how it impacted the Ford family.
William was an aspiring corrections officer in 1992 when he was killed by a white employee of an auto body shop in Long Island, where Ford had a car under repair. The two had argued over the work about a month earlier, and when Ford returned to the shop they exchanged further words. The employee, Mark Reilly, retreated to a back room and when Ford followed him he shot him from some distance away with a rifle.
Reilly was never charged with a crime. An all-white grand jury returned no indictment, apparently accepting the district attorney's conclusion the shooting amounted to self-defense because Reilly feared for his life, even though Ford had been unarmed.
Below are photos and some of the top quotes from the Q&A and reception that followed the screening.
DuVernay earned an Oscar nomination for her documentary 13th, which traced the history of mass incarceration of black men back to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which ostensibly abolished slavery. She referenced her film as she welcomed guests to a reception at Estrella restaurant following the screening of Strong Island.
The film is one that does what 13th was not constructed to do. 13th was made to illuminate and share knowledge about the systems which is a primer for many people who have no idea that the criminal justice is a real system that ensnares you and is a trap that is generational. And what Yance has been able to do with his film is personalize everything that's in 13th, humanize it and bring it down to a feeling level where it becomes a matter of the heart. And I think the two together are powerful, but there's something about your film that elevates the information in 13th and gets it into your bloodstream in a different way.
The first time when I saw it I felt afraid. Why did I feel afraid?... Then I said, 'William reminds me of myself.'
This family did all the right things. This family thought and believed that by doing the right things, by just excluding the fact that race does play an issue in this whole thing, a huge part of what happens to us, and saying, 'If we do the right thing the people will judge us by who we are.'
William is described as this large monster. The autopsy report reveals that he was 5'8".
Angela Davis actually talked about this at a screening a couple of months ago in San Francisco, talked about how the film has raised issues that should have been dealt with and discussed in the immediate aftermath of slavery. And of course this is the case.
We mistake this film for a true crime story, in which our focus should be equally divided between the perpetrator and the victim of the crime. In this film the perpetrator of this crime is represented by his actions and by the narrative that he gave to the police which becomes the official narrative of what happened. Because in the absence of a thorough and complete investigation what Mark Reilly told police is essentially the police version of events. I don't need to see Mark Reilly here to know what he has done...The film is not about him. The film is about his ability to take my brother's life and not face any consequences for it.
I threw out the very first cut of the film which was 2 hours and 45 minutes long because I knew that it wasn't what I wanted. It was great but it was it like a very long highway of grief. It wasn't more complicated than that.
I've been yelling from the rooftops about this film.
Thank you so much for this beautiful film.
Note: this piece has been updated to correct two misgendered possessive pronouns. We regret the error.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.