The documentary “Always in Season” makes a powerful case that the history of lynching in the American South is not just history — that murders still haunt the present-day sites where they occurred, and that such killings can and do happen today.
The director, Jacqueline Olive, begins by exploring the death of Lennon Lacy, whose body was found hanging from a swing set in August 2014 in Bladenboro, N.C. State authorities ruled the death a suicide. The F.B.I. reviewed the investigation and signed off on the conclusion that there was no evidence of foul play. But the movie persuasively argues otherwise.
A mortician says that Lacy, 17, had wounds consistent with self-defense. At the very least, the film suggests, police treated the death as a suicide from the start without considering other possibilities.
The details of the case, as well as interviews with Pierre Lacy, Lennon’s brother, and Claudia Lacy, his mother, make up just one strand of the film. Another, filled with archival newspaper clips, explores the history of lynching in the United States.
Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund describes how lynchings in decades past were not simply murders, but message crimes. She explains the culture of silence that has existed around them: for black people, out of fear, and for white people, out of shame and perhaps fear.
The actor Danny Glover, who narrates, recounts the 1934 case of Claude Neal, who was accused of raping and killing a white woman in Florida. He was shuttled between jails to protect him from the prospect of a lynch mob, but was found and murdered, and his body violently mutilated before a mob of thousands.
Perhaps the most surprising narrative in “Always in Season” deals with the concept of a lynching re-enactment. Since 2005, at Moore’s Ford Bridge in Walton County, Ga., there has been an annual restaging of the murders that took place there in 1946.
The troupe isn’t led by white people nostalgic for a time when they could kill with impunity, although Olive initially plays on that expectation. Rather, the performances have been directed by African-Americans whose goal is to push the public to confront what happened at that location. When the re-enactments started, we are told, it was difficult to get white people to play parts. But since, some have participated. We hear from two who have family members who were in the Ku Klux Klan.
Olive weaves these stories together with fluidity and purpose, but the ideas of “Always in Season” sometimes crowd one another out. While the re-enactment material emphasizes how the specter of lynchings reverberates in the 21st century, so too — much more directly — does the case of Lacy, which deserved a movie of its own.
It almost feels like whiplash when Olive doubles back in the last third to present a fuller picture of the events surrounding Lacy’s death, including a relationship he had with a white woman more than a decade his senior. It feels like the start of a film — a film that needed more burrowing and time spent in Bladenboro — not the end of one.
Always in Season
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes.
Always in Season
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