Black land ownership in America is a history forged with hope in the first decades after slavery, and since then routinely eroded by physical violence, government discrimination, and legal theft. The long journey of a family’s ties to their precious land is shown with intimacy, joy, anguish and courage in “I Am Not Your Negro” filmmaker Raoul Peck’s new documentary, “Silver Dollar Road.”
The title refers to a quiet stretch of coastal land in North Carolina that the Reels family’s ancestor, Mitchell, purchased in the early 1900s, but which, in the absence of a will, became murkyly divided into shares “owned by the heirs.” In the 1970s, his grandchildren Mamie, Licurtis and Melvin, who lived there, farmed the land, fished in its waters and celebrated with their family, learned the hard way about this twist in ownership: a secret older relative ( but apparently legally) had sold the land to a white real estate developer, making them a target for eviction. When Licurtis and Melvin did not heed the warnings, in 2011 the county jailed them for eight years.
“Silver Dollar Road” is a horrible story, but only because at its core is a beautiful story of what this peaceful enclave in Adams Creek has meant to generations of Reels. Peck begins with Mamie’s mother, Gertrude, turning 95; Through snapshots, stories, home videos, and footage that accompany family members as they traverse the property or navigate the creek, the homey serenity of the family’s considerable property comes to life for us. Later, when Mamie tells us what the developers’ plans are, Peck shows us an aerial shot of the land, tracing its beaches, fields and forests with white outlines for the proposed properties, clubhouse and golf course; It feels like soulless vandalism. .
And who are the mysterious (but obviously venal) Adams Creek Associates? We don’t see or hear them, except for a news clip in which a reporter receives a response that he is no longer on duty when he tries to contact a listed number, and some perfunctory text at the end recounting his declared innocence. In other words, if his recipe for outrage calls for an evil presence, Peck isn’t interested in stoking it that way, and he shouldn’t need to. That’s not the oxygen that “Silver Dollar Road,” based on a 2019 ProPublica article by Lizzie Presser, wants to breathe. Rather, it is the warmth, togetherness and persistence of a family fighting a ruthlessly unjust system, clinging to each other as forces move to drive them out.
Could the film have explained in more detail the legal quagmire the heirs’ estates are in? Maybe. Doctors have programmed us to expect talking heads, text, and graphics. But if we want to fully understand how confusing all of this is for families, even for lawyers and the courts, and how easily exploitable it is by the heartless and greedy, then the lack of clarity, expressed with touching resignation by Kim, is his own. ingenuous point. Peck is operating at the other end of the poetic and manifest fire of James Baldwin’s words in “I Am Not Your Negro”: Here, the inexplicable cruelty of two men locked away by being on their own land while their depressed and stoic mother refuses. going outdoors says a lot. She almost shouted it.
Compounding the sense of despair, for the Reels, who describe childhood in their land as magical, this difficulty has reduced their concept of security, from a geographical area that once felt abundant, free and an embodiment of the American dream, to A state. Her mood depends on the time when her family can reunite without being harassed. And even then, at the end, we see Licurtis walk away from a bustling Memorial Day party to be alone with his emotions, with the sad weight of what has happened. “Silver Dollar Road,” with its combination of rich and troubled legacies, has that power, too.
‘Silver Dollar Trail’
Classification: PG, for thematic content, language and brief smoking.
Execution time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: The Culver Theatre, Culver City