How do you measure the distance of reasonable fear?
This is the question that punctuates “Strong Island,” a film which chronicles everything from the love story of Yance Ford’s parents to the death of Ford’s 24-year-old brother, William Ford, Jr., who was killed by a white assailant.
The case never went to trial. The grand jury was all-white.
On Thursday, approximately 35 people went to Annie May Swift Hall’s auditorium for a screening and Q&A with Yance Ford, the director of “Strong Island.”
Ford made history as the first openly transgender man, and the first openly transgender black person to win Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking at the 2018 Emmys. “Strong Island” has gone on to win a U.S. Special Jury Award for Storytelling at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, among other honors.
Just before the screening of “Strong Island” began, director Yance Ford reminded the audience that it was okay to feel joy.
“There are occasionally funny moments in the movie, and I encourage you to laugh at them,” Ford said. “Joy was part of how my family survived what happened to us, and I would hate for anyone to feel like it wasn’t appropriate to laugh at the movie, especially if you enjoy sarcasm, as I do.”
Following the screening, Ford expressed how central his family was to the film and the way its story unfolds. Ford also indicated that his family serves “as a proxy for” African American families across the country, where “violence follows them from the South to their destinations of safety.”
“I wanted to start the film from the beginning of our family to reject the often repeated sort of trope that Black families begin with tragedy and end with tragedy. I wanted to begin my family where it actually began, so we started the film with the love story of my parents,” Ford said.
Ford emphasized the importance of support from his wife, therapy, friends and colleagues during the filmmaking process.
“I believe in therapy. I believe in whatever kind of counseling feels like it's good to you and helps you think clearly and get through your day,” Ford said. “My friends, who are also filmmakers, were really incredible, reminding me when I was questioning whether or not to continue, they would say, ‘Yance, this happened to you too.’”
Xun Wang, a junior studying Communication studies and minoring in film and media studies, said that a scene reenacting William Ford, Jr.’s last moments outside will stay with her.
“At the very end, when he is on the ground,” Wang said. “I think that is pretty stunning for the audience because you only hear the voiceover, but you didn’t see any movement. You’re really trying to imagine ‘What was it like?’ in that moment.”
Ford ended the Q&A session with a message to artists and filmmakers.
“There are national emergencies that it is the obligation and the duty of artists and filmmakers to rise up to the task of telling the story and telling the stories of those national emergencies. I think that there are some filmmakers who are equipped to make films about the violence perpetrated against African Americans, and there are other filmmakers who probably shouldn’t. But the folks who can, I would love to see those folks paired with more resources,” Ford said.