Strong Island examines the violent death of director Yance Ford's brother over 20 years ago and how the collision of silence, race, fear and the judiciary allowed his killer to go free.
Before Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, before John White and Daniel Cicciaro, there was William Ford, Jr. On an April night in 1992, William Ford Jr., a black 24-year-old teacher, confronted a white 19-year-old auto body-shop owner about the quality of a repair. This common scenario turned deadly when another young white mechanic, wielding a .22 caliber rifle, shot Ford once in the chest, killing him. The mechanic claimed he fired in self-defense, and though William Ford was unarmed, he quickly became the prime suspect in his own murder. When an all white Grand Jury decided that no crime had been committed, the killer returned to his life and Ford’s family retreated into a devastating silence. Faced with her parent's failure to pursue justice for her brother, director Yance Ford is asking questions. Strong Island chronicles Ford’s attempt to unravel the truth behind what happened the night her brother was shot to death, and is an unflinching look at the Ford family’s implosion after the death of their only son goes unpunished. The film begins as an intimate conversation between the director and her mother, and traces the flight of Ford’s parents from the Jim Crow South to the promise of the suburbs of the black middle class. The tale shifts in tone when the director asks her mother why she did not do more in the face of such grave injustice. Coming to terms with her own failure to pursue justice for her brother, Ford moves beyond the confines of the family home into a world where ‘facts’ are shrouded in secrecy and danger. One by one, Ford pieces together the details of her brother’s case, only to reveal an incomplete and inconsistent ‘truth’. Ford continues undaunted, driven by an urgent need to give her mother answers to questions that, in 1992, she dared not ask. What she learns is a dark and unsettling lesson about the illusive meaning of ‘justice.’ Providing insight into the complexities of race, violence and criminal justice, Strong Island is a provocative meditation on loss, fear and the impact of grief over time.