Category Archives: Criminal Justice

Strong Island (2017)



Filmmaker: Yance Ford

Year: 2017

Running Time: 107 minutes

Country of Origin: United States

Streaming: Netflix


Filmmaker Yance Ford, in this achingly personal documentary, investigates the 1992 murder of his older brother, William Ford Jr., chronicling the arc of a family across history, geography and tragedy. Ford traces his familial history from the racial segregation of the Jim Crow South to the promise of New York City, through multiple generations affected by the socio-political tides of New York. Prominently featuring the Ford family — Barbara Dunmore, William Ford and their three children — the film explores how the lives and communities which surround Yance Ford were shaped by the enduring tensions of race in America. A deeply intimate and meditative film, featuring frequent appearances by the filmmaker disrupting the fourth wall and addressing the viewer in the self-reflexive documentary style, Strong Island poses questions around racial injustice in contemporary America and how complicity, grief, and silence continue to affect the pursuit of justice.

While the film looks at the injustice surrounding the murder of William Ford Jr., the interview style of Ford’s family and Ford himself examines themes of resilience, overcoming grief, guilt, and the intersection at which Yance Ford’s identity as a queer, trans black artist is silenced in the course of tragedy. While the ‘queering’ of the documentary style is subtle in Strong Island, Ford’s high-contrast, head-on self-interviews is jarring and new to the otherwise traditional documentary style of the film, replete with medium shot interviews, recreations, archival images and documents. Instead of being kept at a safe distance, audience members are forced to very literally sit near and within the emotionally-tortured head of the filmmaker himself. The courageous self-exposure in these moments of grief, pain, and tension disrupts the otherwise pre-packaged formulae of commercial true crime docs.



Strong Island film website

“Towards Trans Cinema,” Eliza Steinbock

Black, queer, and transgender: Ford stands at the intersection of America’s most marginalized groups — and he is so much more than the sum of his parts. Throughout the 10-year process of making “Strong Island…”

(Chili Shi ‘22)

Visions of Abolition: From Critical Resistance to a New Way of Life

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 92 min

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This two part documentary was designed by activists and community organizers directly impacted by the violence of incarceration, as a tool to educate communities about the prison industrial complex and the prison abolition movement in the United States.

Part one, “Breaking down the Prison Industrial Complex,” provides a critique of mass incarceration, tracing its history to the war on drugs and its roots in slavery and capitalism. It “weaves together the voices of women caught in the criminal justice system, and leading scholars of prison abolition, examining the racial and gendered violence of the prison system” ( Part two, “Abolition: Past, Present & Future,” discusses examples of prison abolitionist ideologies and frameworks in practice. Visions of Abolition features interviews with scholars, activists, and previously incarcerated women, including Angela Y. Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Susan Burton, Melissa Burch, Dylan Rodriguez, and Andrea Smith. 

Importantly, Visions of Abolition was not made by trained filmmakers, nor was it made with the specific intention of creating a film. It began as a community research project with LEAD (a branch of a grassroots organization called Critical Resistance), wherein interns interviewed people about their experiences with the prison industrial complex. It was then made into a full length documentary by student activists at UC Riverside, who determined that documentary would be the most effective way to synthesize and present information about the cause for which they were advocating. Thus, rather than an artistic or creative endeavour, documentary as a form was seen by these directors as a means to an end–a tool for the goal of political education. 

Since the documentary was released in 2013, women have become the fastest growing group in the US prison population, and it has been reported that between 70 and 90% of people incarcerated within women’s prisons have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence prior to being incarcerated.

Bibliographic item:

This bibliographic item is the website for a prison abolitionist group called Survived and Punished, which focuses on ending the criminalization of survivors of sexual and domestic violence and abolishing all forms of gender violence. The group has a nuanced analysis of the ways the Carceral State perpetuates gender violence, criminalizes survivors, and relegates people to places where gender violence is routinized and state sanctioned (prisons, jails, and detention centers). The website contains many toolkits, curricula, publications, projects, and resources. It can help elaborate on and complicate the documentary’s discussion of the ways in which the Carceral State perpetuates gender violence and has more up to date statistics and resources.