Using the horrific 1944 gang rape of a black woman by white men as a jumping-off point to examine systemic issues of race, class, and power in the United States, Nancy Buirski’s documentary “The Rape of Recy Taylor” is stirring and powerful. Like many other 2017 films, including “Detroit,” “Mudbound,” “Strong Island,” and more, “Recy Taylor” makes it abundantly clear that the complicated history and politics of race and gender are more relevant — and frustrating — than ever. Continue reading…
Buirski tells Recy’s story through a mix of interviews with her friends and family members and archival footage from black films. Viewers hear how the upstanding, churchgoing Recy — a 24-year-old Alabama wife and mother — was abducted by a car full of young white men who proceeded to rape her, one after the other. Unlike many victims of her era, Recy dared to speak up and name her attackers, but they were never indicted for or punished for their crime.
Why? Because it happened in the Jim Crow South in the 1940s, she was a black woman, and they were white men. As several experts make clear in their own interviews, the power dynamic of that time and place was such that those circumstances alone were more than enough justification — in the rapists’ eyes — for them to do whatever they wanted with and to her. They didn’t see Recy as a wife, a mother, or even a person. They didn’t see her at all.
Someone who did see her was Rosa Parks (yes, that Rosa Parks), who was working as the NAACP’s chief rape investigator at the time and was sent to support Recy and bolster her calls for justice. Her role and Recy’s own bravery in the face of unshakable prejudice show the importance of women — especially women of color — standing up and speaking out, both then and now. It will leave you heartbroken and outraged, but this film will also fire you up to fight in solidarity with these trailblazing women.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW Comments:
Sheila Roberts: With sexual assault stories dominating our headlines daily, “The Rape of Recy Taylor” is as timely now as it was in 1944 when Taylor summoned up extraordinary courage to speak out about her rape and demand justice from a legal system that betrayed women of color. In an era when it was dangerous to do so, the black press brought her story to national prominence and was instrumental in getting the white press to report on it. Using archival footage and eyewitness accounts, filmmaker Nancy Buirski reveals how one black woman’s refusal to accept an egregious miscarriage of justice influenced the future of the Civil Rights Movement and continues to resonate today. This inspiring documentary is dedicated to the countless women whose voices have not been heard.
MaryAnn Johanson: The ways in which the stories about black women in America are marginalized, ignored, and forgotten are legion. This documentary remedies that in one particular case, that of Recy Taylor, whose name should be legendary in American discourse as a civil-rights pioneer for daring to use the legal system to push back at her white rapists. But it also highlights how Rosa Parks has been diminished in American public discourse, by telling more of her story, as a campaigner for black Americans to be seen as equal under the law long before the Birmingham bus event. This is an astonishing film, not least because it tells a story that we should all already be so familar with that it feels epic.
Nikki Baughan: Weaving together archive footage and contemporary talking heads, filmmaker Nancy Buirski creates a desperately moving portrait of the fight against injustice. Despite having occurred over 50 years ago, the rape of African American Recy Taylor by seven white men who ambushed her as she walked home from church vibrates with vivid anger and contemporary resonance. While Recy’s story may originate in violence, her response is nothing short of inspirational. Instead of cowering, Recy became determined to bring her attackers to justice. Teaming with Rosa Parks, she became one of legions of black women whose refusal to stay silent helped drive the civil rights movement.
Esther Iverem: Nancy Buirksi’s unflinching documentary, “The Rape of Recy Taylor” is timely as the United States faces a barrage of sexual harassment, assault and rape cases implicating mostly White men in positions of power. If it has not occurred to commentators, this chilling true story might remind them that today’s U.S.—with such embedded attitudes toward the availability of women’s bodies—evolved from centuries of the systematic, legal rape of Black women and girls.
Cate Marquis: A moving, insightful documentary that combines a personal story of a brutal rape of a black woman in 1944 Alabama with an examination of the role women played in the Civil Rights movement. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore: Sometimes a documentary teaches you more than you ever expected. Sometimes a doc is so relevant to the present it’s shocking. Nancy Buirski’s, THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR, caught me by surprise from the very beginning. I learned not much has really changed in the past 80 years when it comes to everything I hold dear with respect to racism and sexism. Read full review,
Jennifer Merin — Filmmaker Nancy Buirski’s documentary uses archival footage and eyewitness interviews to focus on the heinous crime of rape, reflecting the prevalent racism and demeaning attitude towards women, and especially towards women of color, in the South during the 1940s. This important and well-researched documentary tells a story long waiting to be told and resonates with current revelations of sexual harassment and abuse.
Title: The Rape of Recy Taylor
Directors: Nancy Buirski
Release Date: December 15, 2017
Running Time: 91 minutes
Screenwriter: Nancy Buirski
Production Company: Augusta Films
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Esther Iverem, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Written by Betsy Bozdech, edited by Jennifer Merin