Review: Silver Dollar Road

Silver Dollar Road is yet another well-made documentary about Black people getting screwed. 

It seems like one of these pops up every couple months. Hell, earlier this year on this very site, I reviewed After Sherman, which focused on Black people trying (and failing) to hold onto the coastal South Carolina settlements that’ve been in their families since the Civil War. 

For this doc, we go to coastal South Carolina, particularly to the 65 acres the titular road runs through, a stretch of land that has been the home of the Reels family for over a century. Anchored by matriarch Gertrude, the property has basically been a down-home utopia — complete with their own beach! — for generations of family members.

The clan has also spent over three decades fighting the unseen Adams Creek Associates, who got ownership of 13 acres from a relative who lives in Jersey. (The family wasn’t informed of this deal.) Unfortunately, brothers Melvin and Licurtis also live on the property. After myriad legal battles, they were given a choice: vacate the premises or go to jail. They chose the latter.

Based on Lizzie Presser’s 2019 ProPublica/The New Yorker article, Silver is basically an hour and 40 minutes of a Black family going through it. Director Raoul Peck, who helmed that amazing James Baldwin doc I Am Not Your Negro in 2016, keeps things routine yet efficient, giving us a family history that’s in danger of getting bulldozed and gentrified. He sends drone cameras up in the sky for dramatic aerial shots of this woodsy wonderland, and shares plenty of photos and home videos of the Reels in better times. We even see heyday snapshots of Fantasy Island, the club Melvin owned and operated on the property. (Along with being a professional fisherman, Melvin was a ladies’ man who sported an Afro and a jhericurl.)

The second half has the Reels consistently getting ganked by lawyers, investigators, the courts, and whoever else who wants to stick them for their paper and their property. (According to the article, one judge who heard the brothers’ case likened them to that relentless Black Knight from the Monty Python and the Holy Grail, refusing to give up even when the battle is hopeless.) 

Although they finally get Melvin and Licurtis out of jail (after seven years!), it’s a hollow victory. Ultimately, both the fam and the brothers appear more beaten than the people they were up against. Peck heartbreakingly ends with a limping Licurtis, admitting that he spends most of his time alone in his room, crying and trying to not be consumed by anger over all the years he lost.

After Killers of the Flowers Moon (yeah, it’s a butt-number, but Scorsese kept me riveted), it’s starting to get frustrating, watching movies where people of color get taken out of their rightful homes (or taken out in general) by powerful, pale-skinned folk. The last act does give us a sliver of hope that future generations of Reels could keep the property in the family; it’s the closest thing to a happy ending that Silver Dollar Road provides. Then again, this could also serve as a wake-up call for all young people to hold onto inherited property by any means necessary. And if you don’t have that birthright, acquire it for yourself. To quote this powerful piece of music, buy some land, buy some land — fuck spinning rims!

“Silver Dollar Road” streams tonight on Amazon Prime Video.

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