“I was in a barbershop in South Carolina. There was a young man in his 20’s that didn’t even know what the term lynching meant. That’s not to disparage him. It’s just to say that it was even less so in the American mainstream at the time. That’s why it was important for me to make sure people understand the history, “Jacqueline Olive reveals in a reflective tone. Always in Season is Olive’s first documentary film about the lingering impact of more than a century of the lynching of African Americans. Olive spent 10 years making the film. The first 2 years were spent researching and she arrived at the title about a month in. “It comes from the fact that lynchings were highly advertised. They often appeared in newspapers, advertised on radio or flyers, trains were reserved for people to come and watch, notes were sent to schools to excuse children to come and watch at the height of when they were spectacle events. They happened sometimes arbitrarily because people were bored and had nothing to do. So, like hunting it was as if black people were always in season.”
America’s dark past is often silenced. It may be out of discomfort, shame, guilt, the possibilities are endless. However, our present hurt cannot be restored without facing these ugly truths of the past. Olive identifies, “For me, it’s always been about this thread from the past to present. People have this sense that the past is walled off, but it is often connected. I started filming even before the Black Lives Matter Movement and I can’t count how many times I heard from young black folks, white people, and everyone in between that this is the past, I haven’t really thought about lynching.” After the Civil War, the end of slavery, lynching became a way for white people to keep control through racial terror. The Equal Justice Initiative documents more than 4400 lynchings in the United States during the period of Reconstruction to World War II. While lynching took place throughout the United States, it was prominent in the South. Olive’s roots are in the deep South and we discussed the impact of where she is from in making this film.
“I grew up in Hattiesburg, MS. So, home, the South, is important to me. How stories about the South are told is important to me. That it’s recognizable, no dichotomy. Stories about the South are usually presented as either good or bad, hero or villain, and I think it’s more complicated than that. In making Always in Season my writing partner, Don Bernier, and I worked hard to weave all the complexities of the South in every scene. There’s the beauty of the landscape, the warmth of the people and at the same time, there’s the present-day racism in the South mixed in with historic terrorism. So, it’s complicated and can be tense. For people to feel those moments of what it's like to move through spaces that I am familiar with is really important to me.”
Olive succeeds in capturing the beauty and warmth of the South along with raw tensions that exist. The film captures you from the start with the story of Lennon Lacy, a 17-year old black teenager that was found hanging from a swing set in the middle of a trailer park in 2014 in Bladenboro, N.C. I asked Olive about the process of this tragedy becoming the catalyst of the film. “I was wrapping production in late July when I heard about Lennon’s death. I knew that this could become a vital part of the story. I had a few years of research and understanding of how lynchings still impact family members. I understood how family members are emotionally distraught about lynchings that happened before they were born, how it disrupted family ties, disrupted them economically, and how those folks were beloved family members. I also knew that these hangings were happening. I had moved back to Mississippi at one point. During those 7 years, there were about 4-5 hangings like Lennon. Young black men found hanging with their own belt from trees. There may have been more hangings, but I wasn't researching them at the time. So, when I wrapped production and saw Lennon’s mother Claudia reaching out to the press to get attention, I knew that the impact of even suspecting that your child might have been lynched must have been profound for the community in Bladenboro. I also, had a son who was Lennon’s age at the time, 17, and now 21. I couldn’t imagine what Claudia and the folks of the town had to be going through.”
The film moves in between Lennon’s story and other communities looking for justice and reconciliation. The centerpiece is a controversial annual reenactment of a 1946 quadruple lynching that took place in Monroe, GA. The scenes are powerful and at times, very difficult to watch. Olive shared her initial thoughts on lynching reenactments. “I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what a lynching reenactment was about. It just didn’t make much sense to me because I didn’t have context for it. Then I started to think about the Confederate Civil War reenactments. Those efforts that go on across the country, particularly the South, where people want to write the narrative, shape the narrative, but also to honor and memorialize the folks involved. So, when I started to talk to the people on the ground, I realized that’s what they were doing. They wanted to make sure the victims were never forgotten, to bring a national spotlight to the case in Monroe, a quadruple murder that happened there with two couples. I also got a better understanding of the personal motivations of the reenactors. Cassandra Green, the Director, lived in South Carolina. Cassandra had been fired upon by neighbors who were white supremacists. Olivia Taylor’s father was in the Klan and she wanted to find some way to bring healing to communities. Walter Reeves would infiltrate Neo-Nazi groups in the state of Georgia and has been a strong racial justice activist for decades. The reenactments are held and dramatized by really committed people to racial justice despite the discomfort. White actors must represent Klansmen and use the N-word. Black actors have the emotions of having to play victims who were brutalized, yet they all still show up year after year. I spent 3 years filming with them and getting to understand what happened around the lynching in Monroe and how people are responding to it and the lives of the reenactors.” The film highlights the tension in the town with doing these reenactments which speaks volumes to the “don’t talk about it” approach towards race in our present day. Olive highlighted, while reactions are mixed, it is heavily weighted on people not wanting the reenactments to happen because they feel like it is causing division in their communities as if this historic racial violence hadn’t already done that. It sounds all too familiar to the thought that talking about race is somehow more divisive than the actual racism that exists.
Olive describes the goal of Always in Season. “It’s not about telling people how to feel but it was about giving them the opportunity to see what is happening on the ground from multiple angles. One goal is that they can find themselves in the story, but also to have conversations around racial violence like issues of mass incarceration and inequity in education. The idea was to create a film that people will start to have the conversations needed to break the silence and start the work of justice and reconciliation in all the ways that it needs to be done.”
Jacqueline Olive is only getting started. She is planning to bring the film around the country for deeper dive conversations about justice, reconciliation, and reparations. Also, to talk about our traumas giving people a chance to share their stories around lynchings. She spent a lot of time speaking in universities across the country and we will hopefully be able to pick it up again. Olive is also developing several projects. A couple of series, documentary features, a fiction film, and a horror film. She is looking at ideas that are centered around people of color and particularly in the South. Olive is really interested in themes around young black girls.
Cameron Parker is a contributing writer for Block Chronicles.