The tragic truth remains that all it takes in America for a white person to get away with killing a black person is for the white person to convince the right people -- a judge, a jury, a prosecutor -- of his or her own fear. If a white person is scared enough of a black person to believe that his or her life is in danger, our legal system insists that the white person is justified in killing. Yance Ford's courageous, intimate, heart-rending Strong Island examines, with wrenching clarity, one such case. Ford's brother William was shot and killed at age 24 in a Central Islip automotive chop shop in the spring of 1992 by a white man who convinced the cops and the grand jury that he had every reason to fear for his life. Yance Ford tells us, in the film's opening moments, that Strong Island is a chance to set the record straight not just on William's death but on his very character -- as in so many cases of black men killed by white men, the white man's exoneration depended upon the black man's demonization. Director Yance reveals William to us through interviews with family and friends, through excerpts from William's own diaries, through the testimony of a Manhattan assistant district attorney who, the year before William was killed, got shot on the street and watched William heroically chase down and tackle the shooter.
For all its raw pain, Strong Island is also a scrupulously shaped work, one of striking compositions and juxtapositions, its faces and revelations presented with artful, thoughtful rigor. Especially compelling is an early thumbnail history of African-American neighborhoods on Long Island.