Friday, Apr. 5

The Carolina Theatre, Durham

In August 2014, Lennon Lacy, a seventeen-year-old African-American high school student, was found hanged from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina. Though it was ruled a suicide by the local police, Lacy’s mother, Claudia, has always suspected murder. With the help of the NAACP, she has been pursuing justice for almost five years.

Jacqueline Olive’s debut feature, Always in Season, does more than narrate this story: It draws unsettling connections with the all-too-recent history of lynchings in America, questioning whether it ever truly ended. The film is the product of ten years of research and filming, and Olive almost didn’t include Lacy’s story at all. But Claudia’s conviction that her son was murdered resonated with Olive’s work on the way lynchings continue to affect the communities in which they took place.

As Olive put it during the Q and A at the film’s Full Frame screening, the horrific, sanctioned violence of lynchings were “seminal moments for these communities.” And they were widespread: According to the Census Bureau’s estimation, between 1882 and 1968, there were almost five thousand documented lynchings. Thousands more went undocumented.

In contrast to prouder moments in local history, the memory of a lynching is usually passed on through public silence and maintained by fear, guilt, and shame. In Lennon’s case, a lack of witnesses made everything depend on physical evidence that was scooped up by police, and odd or contradictory details were ignored. Much of the film is spent on these details, from the size of Lacy’s shoes to the size of the woman who called in his death after, supposedly, she was able to take down his 240-pound body by herself. Most damning is the independent account of a local mortician, who claims Lacy’s body showed obvious signs of struggle.

The film is most effective at showing the long-term emotional devastation suffered by Claudia and her surviving son, Pierre, as their experience and their questions are dismissed again and again by police, local media, and the FBI. In contrast to this institutional gaslighting, Olive follows a crew of volunteer reenactors of the 1946 lynching at Moore’s Ford in Monroe, Georgia. Every year, Monroe residents revisit this event, in which a white mob pulled two African-American couples out of their car and murdered them in a ditch. These scenes are viscerally disturbing, but they’re also the only times we see black and white Americans able to openly discuss the past. The grand jury transcripts of the case were unsealed just this year.

Though Always in Season can only suggest parallels between the Lacy case and historic lynchings, a troubling statistic drives home its deeper message: According to NAACP lawyer Heather Rattelade, there have been almost twenty deaths by hanging of young African-American men in public areas in the last fifteen years. All were quickly ruled suicides, and that doesn’t include other alleged suicides while in police custody. Whatever the truth of these individual cases, Always in Season is a vital document of how the ongoing trauma of racial violence in the U.S. remains unresolved.