Yance Ford in Strong Island
[Photo: Netflix]
Yance Ford knows how timely “Strong Island” is. But he’s not just looking at its impact on the present. He wants it to reverberate far into the future and severely challenge and change people.
“What we were trying to say was that violence against black people happens so often, and is so common, even in these idyllic places,” Ford remarked when I sat down with the filmmaker to talk about “Strong Island”, his powerful and intimate exploration of the death of his older brother William in April, 1992.
Ford doesn’t just point the camera at his audience, constantly going back to the night of William’s murder with new information and making you re-evaluate the circumstances that led to his death, she plays an integral character, too. But rather than being a cathartic piece of filmmaking, Yance Ford instead insists that its 10-year journey to the screen was one of necessity.

“My brother had been dead for 15 years. It didn’t feel therapeutic or cathartic in any way. It felt difficult because I knew how important it was, and it felt necessary because I was the only one in my family who was a storyteller, and I needed to make sure that the story didn’t go untold. That sounds corny. But [it’s not] when you live with an absence of injustice for so long and you watch it take your family apart. Especially when you’re in the process of making the film and you finally decide to take that step and the world around you seems to explode with case after case with a narrative of hyper-masculinity, inherent danger, and irrational fear that’s wrapped in the shroud of reasonable fear. Those cases are happening on a weekly basis.”


“It was really really hard, because I knew this film was going to be telling the future,” Ford continued. “One of the things that’s important about “Strong Island” is not that it resonates with struggles that are happening now. It’s that it calls us to think about what these families are going through 25 years from now. And because this narrative has not changed now we need to get up and do something about it. And now we need to change the way we see.“


Netflix has provided “Strong Island” with the opportunity to connect with a larger audience, something that Yance Ford acknowledges. Especially because the film probably wouldn’t have made it into cinemas anyway.  “I don’t know if it would have had a theatrical life. Because our sales agent showed it to theatrical distributors before and during Sundance, and no-one was interested in seeing the film,” Ford admitted.


“But then [Netflix] saw the film, and immediately got it. I hadn’t actually had a conversation with anyone outside of my circle of friends who had got the film, its intention, its execution, and also its impact on them. I’m really grateful because Netflix allowed me to amplify my brother’s story beyond the borders of the United States.”


You can finally take in Yance Ford’s stunning documentary, and learn about the tragedy of William’s life, when “Strong Island” is released onto Netflix on September 15.