They say the grief of losing someone you love is something that will stay with you forever. If that’s the case, then nobody would know this better than Yance Ford, the filmmaker behind “Strong Island”, the Oscar nominated documentary about the violent death of a young black man in 1992 and the judicial system that let the killer go free. You see, that young black man was Yance’s older brother.
Netflix’s “Strong Island” might feel like a crime documentary at first glance, but it is far more than that. Yes, a crime is at the center of the story, but what is a bigger center of the story is an ordinary black American family. In fact, the extra-ordinariness of the story comes from how ordinary the family is.
The story begins with the mother of the victim recounting meeting a charming boy that turned into her handsome husband. They had 3 kids, successful careers, and a warm household. They raised a tight-knit, all American family. Their story is the story of so many families, white, black, brown, yellow, everybody. We can see our parents, ourselves, our siblings in the pictures, videos, stories shared.
But the ordinariness of the family ends when their black son is gunned down by a white man and a grand jury decides no crimes was committed. Whether what took place was self defense or not is up to the audience of the documentary to decide for themselves. What that act by the grand jury reminded us, however, is how extraordinary this family after all, no matter how ordinary they seemed.
They are extraordinary because they are black. They are extraordinary because the justice system did not even send the case to trial. We say this because we can not imagine a grand jury would come to the same conclusion if the crime was the other way around. If a black man shot a white man in this circumstance, would he really be able to walk free? Highly doubtful.
Then again, this makes the family an ordinary black family in America. No matter how ordinary your life seems, you will be reminded, through an unjust murder in this case, that you are extraordinarily unequal. Your life doesn’t matter as much.
“Strong Island” is not a crime documentary. It is a look at how a violent killing of their son and brother broke a family forever. It is a diary of a grieving sibling. It is a look at a quiet rage that eats at a family who feels betrayed by our flawed justice system.
Let this documentary be the next thing you watch on Netflix.