Strong Island (2017)

strong island poster 2017 movie
8.0 Overall Score

Challenging documentary

Yance's legitimate anger potentially clouds the ability to heal which is part of the reason of the documentary

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Strong Island

Studio:   Yanceville Films

Genre(s):   Documentary

Release Date(s):   January 23, 2017 (Sundance Film Festival)

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

strong island william ford killed documentary

Who was William Ford Jr.?

On April 7, 1992, the Ford family was rocked.  William Ford Jr. was shot and killed after a quick altercation at a repair shop.  Now years after the incident, Yance Ford is trying to come to terms about what happened to the brother lost in a tragedy.  Interviewing people involved and trying to determine what happened at the grand jury which led to no charges against his killer, Yance is angry and vowing William’s story will be told.

Directed by Yance Ford, Strong Island is a documentary originally released on Netflix after premiering at Sundance.  The director Yance Ford became the first transgender filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award when the film received a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

Strong Island is tough.  There is a lot of things going on in it and there are a lot of different views…and the only people who know the truth of what happened in the garage are Michael (who was killed) and his killer Mark Reilly who Yance intentionally does not focus upon.  This provides a kind of strange understandably bias look at the story, but a lot of the film is actually about Yance’s attempts to reconcile her past.

strong island yance ford documentary

Yance is angry…and rightfully so

The film really boils down to why Mark Reilly wasn’t taken to trial.  There were mistakes at the scene of the event with police seeming to focus on the danger presented to Reilly by Ford, but it seemed like many of these issues were at least rectified when presented to the grand jury (if we believe the man Yance spoke to on the phone about the grand jury).  What the story comes down to is the imposed threat by a “large black man” and a grand jury that seemed disinterested anything but that.

Ford had previously threatened Reilly for insulting his mother, and this really hurt the case.  It is also a sense of guilt by Yance and a real motivator for the making of the documentary.  Yance knew about the event and had cheered him for his actions…and worries that keeping silent could have contributed to his death or the failure of a grand jury.  Would a trial have found Reilly guilty?  Probably not due to the situation and the climate of society when it happened, but it seems that there were enough questions surrounding the event (and the shady shop) that a trial would be justified.

strong island david breen academy award

Without family or friend bias, an effective way of revealing what William was like

One of the reasons behind the documentary is to bring back William’s name.  Yance paints him as a guy who would chase down an attempted killer and also was a poet.  He wanted to be more than another kid from Long Island and had dreams.  It is part of the reason that Yance didn’t seek out Reilly…it wasn’t about him or his actions.

In not seeking out Reilly, the documentary doesn’t become a documentary about justice and fails to serve the purpose of healing.  Yance still harbors anger and it casts a shadow.  It most likely wouldn’t have changed things if Yance sought out Mark, but due to no trial and no time for the family to attempt to heal, it would have maybe reminded Yance that no everyone is William’s killer…the man William helped after he was shot by a robber isn’t William’s killer and billions more (white, black, or whatever ethnicity) aren’t as well.  Is society William’s killer?  That can be debated.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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