Silver Dollar Road
October 18th, 2023
MOVIE: SILVER DOLLAR ROAD
STARRING: GERTRUDE REELS, MAMIE ELLISON, LICURTIS REELS, MELVIN DAVIS
DIRECTED BY: RAOUL PECK
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
In my nearly 40 years of existence, I have never once thought about the ownership of land. The ground I walk on, the house I live in, or the place I rest my head has always been there. That’s a part of white privilege. It is also a reality that I haven’t had to think about. I haven’t had to worry about who was the owner of the land I stood on. In Raoul Peck’s powerful new documentary Silver Dollar Road, the Reels family had been living on their land for centuries and were just as much part of the landscape as the trees that grew in the ground. But then Licurtis Reels and his brother Melvin Davis were arrested for trespassing, simply because they were standing on the land outside their homes. Silver Dollar Road captures this entire story, highlighting how greed and a loophole of heirs’ property, became another example of how Black Americans have been mistreated today.
Silver Dollar Road is on the coast of North Carolina. It is a gorgeous spot for vacationing and right along the creeks and rivers where shrimp boats can make a living. This has been a part of the Reels family for generations and we meet Gertrude Reels, the mother of Licurtis and Melvin, and the person who was given the land by her father Mitchell Reels. Little did they know that there was no living will be created by Mitchell and although Gertrude had it in writing that the house was hers, there was a matter of heirs property, where unless every living relative had claim to the land, it was free for developers to take. An egregious loophole that allows greedy businesses to steal land from those who had been living on it for their entire life. Licurtis and Melvin would be arrested and for no real answer at all, they were held in prison for nearly 8 years.
Working off the ProPublica piece written by Lizzie Presser, Peck is no stranger to covering topics of this nature, as his previous film I Am Not Your Negro and the Mini-Series Exterminate All the Brutes, both dealt we the mistreatment of Black Americans and the history of genocide in the world. To some, it may seem like the matter in Silver Dollar is simply a situation of governmental oversight or greed from those looking to make money off of land. The reality is that this story is more than that. It is about the wrongful imprisonment of two Black men. It is about the way Black Americans have been pushed off their land since the beginning of slavery. It shines a light on how America must still wrestle with the dark past, present, and future of how we treat Black Americans today.
From a directorial point, Peck balances the story to near perfection, as he allows us to truly meet the entire family. Each member welcomes Peck into their home and shows them a slice of their daily living, including a trip on Melvin’s shrimp-boat, or a full rundown of the events from daughter Mamie Ellison. It’s easy to just do a talking head style, which Peck does and where we get a lot of information, but the director also mixes in animated storytelling of the Reels family tree. The combo of these styles allows us to feel close to this family, to see that there is a rich history, and to see that they are the victims of a great injustice.
Peck doesn’t necessarily sway his opinion one way or the other, as he tells the story straightforwardly, never veering into making it about wrongful imprisonment, or the trauma that comes with it. He sticks to the story of land being ripped away from a family. Those are the facts. The only weak part of Silver Dollar Road is that the article in ProPublica gives just as much information as the doc. You can read one or watch the other and the story is still a painful example of Black Americans being mistreated today. Nevertheless, Silver Dollar Road shines a light on a family that deserves our attention and an issue of heirs’ property that must be fixed in our government systems. This land is their land. It’s not my land. Nobody should be able to take it away.
SILVER DOLLAR ROAD IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON AMAZON PRIME.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady