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Like its director, “Strong Island” contains multitudes. Yance Ford’s documentary made history when it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, marking the first time a film from an out transgender filmmaker received an Oscar nomination, and only the fifth nomination for a transgender person ever. The movie, which recounts Ford’s experiences in the aftermath of his brother’s murder, offers an excoriating look at the killing of a young black man at the hands of a white one, in addition to the American criminal justice system that failed him and his family at every turn. Deeply personal and expertly crafted, what begins as an investigation into a murder becomes a painstaking inquiry of grief, memory, and ultimately — identity.
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,” Ford transformed painful personal tragedy into art as he inched towards the deeply personal decision to medically transition. “Strong Island” deals with masculinity, race, and class, but it is not directly about gender identity and queerness, at least not on the surface. Ford said he finds it “remarkable” when audiences miss that the most pivotal moment in the film, a phone call between Ford and his brother, is inextricably linked to his gender and feeling fully seen by William.
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“If you listen to the phone call, that’s the kind of phone call that a 24-year-old guy would make to his younger brother, not to his younger sister,” Ford told IndieWire. “I want to encourage people to take a closer look at that moment, and what’s legible on my face as a character in this film, and then ask themselves if my trans identity at the end...
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Measuring his life out one teaspoon at a time.