Inside the world of swindlers
By Dwight Brown | NNPA News Wire Film Critic
Swindlers stealing land from Black folks is an age-old scam. One worth exposing.
Silver Dollar Road is a waterfront property in North Carolina that’s been in the Reels family for generations. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve been conned out of a large portion of their acreage by a deceitful relative and conniving white land developers.
That parcel sits on a lake and would be prime real estate for hotels and such. But for the family its home, the place where generations docked their boats and went out fishing. No one could know how much it means to them. How much history is there. This robbery feels personal. So, how do you get back what never should have been stolen?
Documentarian and filmmaker extraordinaire Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro,” “Lumumba”) focusses on the Reel’s specifically. But land grabbing and using law enforcement to intimidate victims is a monstrous rip-off game that goes well beyond one family’s experience in North Carolina. Watching the land stealers scheme, with cops at their beck and call, is sobering. It’s an unfair fight. But a fight it will be.
Peck’s investigation uncovers systematic racism, greed and a clear battle between good and evil. Shock, outrage, evictions and jail time are on screen in this cautionary tale. Through an exhausting cycle of trials, appeals, trials and appeals this family stands strong and their journey is inspiring.
Luckily, they had an inkling that their strength would be tested one day. Their patriarch, Elijah Reels (born in slavery in 1866, died in 1962), gave them fair warning before he died: “Whatever you do, don’t let the white man have my land.”
A matriarch’s old video footage and Peck’s prying lens tell all. Viewers see all. They hear all. The Reels’ kin share their shock, fear, anger and determination in very intimate interviews. Their recollections include what was and what is: “It was a beautiful memory, until I became an adult and realized that some of the things that happened made me think that this is not such a pretty place anymore.” Their resistance movement is led by family members whose determination doesn’t wane. Not over days, weeks, months and years.
Peck’s one flaw is that the footage needed more judicious editing. An 80 to 90-minute succinct doc that resonates would have been far more effective than a 100-minute one that occasionally loses momentum.
A very loving, normal family heroically sought justice. Documentary fans will want to see how they did it. Here it is.