A recently completed work-in-progress of Jackie Olive’s – the documentary feature film “Always in Season” – screened before a private audience at Jengo’s playhouse as part of North Carolina’s Black Film Festival. Jackie Olive will be showing a short preview of the film and curating a discussion as part of the Cucalorus Filmed in NC Showcase.
Always in Season is a withering exploration into the legacy of lynching in America. More than a history lesson, the film exposes the shadow of pain and terror lynching still casts today. To many this is not a chapter long since closed but a timeline of oppression, which manifests today in police shootings and mass incarceration. Much of film is focused on efforts to start the healing process by bringing awareness to the full scope and severity of these crimes. It is shocking just how little people are aware of this history. Far from being a few isolated incidents, lynching was a grassroots campaign of terror meant to cower black Americans. Despite these deep wounds, the film profiles attempts to seek avenues of hope and reconciliation. Always in Season is a streamlined account of the turbulent emotional mix still lingering in the wake of an all too American style of terrorism.
The history of lynching is far worse than our history books tell us. A common figure for African Americans murdered through lynching is roughly 4,000. This is an understatement. There could easily be as many as 15,000. The term “lynching” refers to all acts of extrajudicial execution committed against black Americans – not just those with a noose. Some of the most harrowing moments of the film come when photos of these events are displayed. As shocking as it might seem, the perpetrators of lynchings were often proud of their actions. Postcards were printed and mailed showcasing the mutilated and burned bodies of African Americans surrounded by a sea of smiling white faces. These postcards didn’t always come from the Deep South. Always in Season does a great job at showing how pervasive lynchings were across America. Many northern towns and cities have lynchings in their past. Most had nothing to do with allegations of capital crimes like rape or murder. They were simply done to keep African Americans in “their place”. Lynchings functioned as a systematic campaign of terror to ensure the black community remained powerless and white supremacy reigned. This legacy is still alive today.
The film makes excellent use of interviews to display the different attitudes towards the history of Lynching in America. It is hard to watch as black Americans work to move past pain in pursuit of justice while white Americans shrug the topic off as a tragic footnote. In many cases white interviewees are not even aware of lynchings that occurred in their own cities only sixty years ago. This is one of the central themes of the film – that by confronting this racialized dissonance, we all as Americans have the opportunity to work towards justice and reconciliation. In most cases white obfuscation is not done out of malice but materializes from simple discomfort. In a sense whites are taking aspirin pills of amnesia to avoid the emotional and spiritual hangover of lynching. A treatment which has been surprisingly effective. Police shootings and vigilante killings of African Americans still go unpunished today. The film even reveals a possible lynching in Bladenboro, North Carolina where Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in 2014. One cannot help but notice the irony that though black Americans could not attend lynchings as spectators, they are the ones lighting the way towards an uncharted path for restorative justice in America. Meanwhile postcard after postcard of complicit white crowds have apparently grown senile within a generation. The film makes painfully obvious how far from relevance many in the white community view lynching.
Acknowledgement of these crimes is not always pretty. One controversial attempt at bringing awareness the film portrays is lynching reenactments. In one scene, performers act out the grizzly details of a quadruple lynching in 1946, including the murder of an unborn child. Though often utilizing amateurs, the passion and emotional fury brought out during these reenactments is blistering. If just the mention of this history makes many whites uncomfortable, it is not hard to imagine the effect of live action portrayals. Many white people interviewed question the necessity of these performances, labeling them divisive. But a key aspect the film demonstrates is just how much pain is caused by allowing these wounds to fester in silence. Interviews with the reenactments’ black and white actors show their hope is to start the healing process through these performances. In order for that process to occur, there must be acknowledgement of the damage caused. No one promised that was going to be easy.
Despite the emotional trauma that resurfaces with these issues Always in Season is in many ways a catalog of methods to heal wounded communities. It points towards a future of acknowledgement, repair and reconciliation. As the film progresses, a growing cast of white people step up to address the history of lynching and the actions of their ancestors. In one of the most powerful scenes, a memorial is erected for three African American circus workers lynched in Duluth, MN in 1920. Among the attendees are relatives of the men lynched and those that lynched them. In an inspiring display, both parties share in the grieving process. They discuss openly how it feels to discover this incident is part of their history. They come together by addressing the truth rather than hiding from it. There is no attempt to make descendants share in the guilt of their ancestors. Rather, this process creates a common space of healing. The film takes viewers from black & white photographs of hate and silence to a living process of reconciliation. Always in Season examines the traumatizing effects lynching has had on our past and present but it also points to a future of hope. You can follow the progress of this film and keep posted on the broadcast date on PBS in 2017 here!