Always in Season (Jacqueline Olive, 2019) 4 out of 4 stars.
17-year-old Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in the early hours of August 29, 2014, in Bladenboro, North Carolina, in what the police quickly dubbed a suicide. A star on his high school’s football team, which was due to play that day, Lennon had shown no previous signs of depression, and his family vehemently rejected the conclusions of law enforcement. Given that there have been 20 other such public-place “suicides” of African Americans since 2000, their suspicions do not seem misplaced. In her feature documentary debut Always in Season, director Jacqueline Olive explores not only the circumstances surrounding Lennon’s death, but also America’s terrible history of lynching. It’s difficult to watch, at times – and many of the photos from the past are almost impossible to look at – but deeply necessary, especially in our era of rising white supremacy.
Narrator Danny Glover (The Old Man and the Gun) adds his seasoned gravitas to the proceedings, but Olive almost doesn’t need him, so solid is her investigative work, following disturbing leads no matter where they take us. Whether staying in Bladenboro or ranging further afield, she reminds us of how this country’s original sin of slavery has never been expiated in any but the most superficial of ways. Being black in America is a threat to one’s health, happiness and life. Everyone should already know this, but a refresher never hurts.
Beyond her choice of incisive talking-head interview subjects – including Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP and Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative – Olive’s most interesting cinematic move is her inclusion of significant footage of the lynching reenactments of Monroe, GA, where dedicated actors, year after year, recreate the 1946 murders of four African Americans (plus the ripping out of a 7-month fetus from one of their wombs). The annual event brings a large audience, and we watch the rehearsal, final preparations and eventual performance, spending time with the reenactment director and her cast. One of the latter is a white woman whose KKK father brought her to witness a lynching when she was 3, marking her for life with the horror of it. She has no problem facing the truth of racism, and nor should we.
The heart of the story, however, belongs to Lennon and, especially, his mother Claudia and brother Pierre, who struggle to keep his memory alive and force further investigations. They persevere, even in the face of official indifference. There is no good season for murder, but there is always time for repentance. Let Jacqueline Olive show you how.