Lennon Lacy, only 17 years old, was hung from a swing set and found by the local police on a Friday morning; by Tuesday, they had decided the cause of death was suicide.
Lennon was a black boy living in the rural city of Bladenboro, North Carolina. His mother, Claudia, as well as his family, friends and other locals who knew Lennon, believe he was the victim of a 21st-century lynching. The police and district attorney never brought anyone to justice and did not entertain the possibility. Always in Season is a stirring, comprehensive look into the circumstances of Lennon’s death, but documentarian Jacqueline Olive takes it a step forward, exploring the history of lynchings, the communities that try to bring awareness to that history, and the groups that may continue the practice once again in modern times.
“Bladenboro got skeletons … some things you see, you keep it to yourself. You’ll live longer,” one resident remarks. There are unresolved issues in Bladenboro, and you’ll get a different account of the state of things depending on those with whom you speak. Black residents see continued injustice that stretches as far back as the city has existed (and longer). White residents don’t believe that to be the case. Only those who knew Lennon believe he was lynched; others try to move forward and not worry about it or come up with reasons why Claudia and company are crazy. It is the same patterns seen nationally in the wake of other racially charged acts of violence. Things tend to break down similarly each time.
Olive cuts over to Georgia, some 200-ish miles away, where black and white actors re-enact an infamous unsolved quadruple lynching from the 1940s. Their goal is to keep the memory of the horrors perpetrated alive in our modern culture. It’s horrific to watch, not in the least because these murders were never solved. The crew that hosts the event discusses the difficulty of finding white actors to play members of the Ku Klux Klan, noting how difficult it seems to be to find people ready to reckon with the not-too-distant past. By incorporating this footage, Olive is able to contextualize the abject tragedy of Lacy’s unsolved death. The KKK and other white supremacist groups have their ties to law enforcement and other institutions, and have for decades. Lynchings were supported at one time, but are now simply swept under the rug. “It makes you realize that things like that sill happen. We may not see them all the time, but they still happen.”
Although Season doesn’t launch into the contemporary political situation, it really doesn’t need to do so. Viewing Lennon’s death through the lens of racially motivated cross-generational terrorism provides all you need to know about the current predicaments involving structural racism and the enduring power of stewing resentments to hold onto power. The intimate focus on Lacy’s case combined with the substantial history portions make for a potent experience.
Season emphasizes that the road to racial justice in the United States is an uphill battle against implicit attitudes as much as it is explicit actions. When Olive goes into the history of lynchings, her interviews do not mince words: These acts of violence were spectator sports enjoyed by hundreds, if not thousands, of townspeople. Friends, neighbors, local businessmen. Children. They may not have tied the noose — and may not be doing so now — but they’re supporting it. The parallels are clear.
Always in Season is an Official Selection at the 2019 Heartland Film Festival. Tickets can be purchased here.
12:40 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16 — AMC Castleton Square