The Rape of Recy Taylor is a tough watch – but not for the reasons you think. This documentary provides critical analysis on what happens to women of color when seeking justice; it ends with them being coerced into silence, and then promptly forgotten. This is nothing new, but it exposes the new “woke” generation to the name Recy Taylor. It also introduces the audience to a side of Rosa Parks that is rarely explored. The problem lies in the execution and artistic vision of of the film. Director Nancy Buirski has an unbalanced approach to the material which made me think about who is better equipped to tell stories like these, and if race plays a big part of that.
Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old black mother and sharecropper, was gang raped by six white boys in 1944 Alabama on her way home from church. She wasn’t wearing anything provocative, or “asking for it,” she was minding her business. Sadly, rape and sexual assault in the Jim Crow South was not unusual. What makes Taylor’s story so different is she chose to speak up and seek justice.
The NAACP sent Rosa Parks to investigate. Parks provided a much needed boost to Recy’s add, which in turn rallied a remarkable amount of support nationwide. Unfortunately, that was short-lived as Taylor never found justice, and once the justice system was done with her, she was silenced. She had to move from Abbeville, Alabama to prevent herself from being alienated by townsfolk. But her story, her tragedy, her suffering hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Self admission: I didn’t know about the Recy Taylor situation until the announcement for the film. As an outsider, I looked forward to hearing her experience from her mouth but Robert Corbitt and Alma Daniels, both siblings of Taylor, provide their vantage points to the narrative, and very little is heard from Recy. While the siblings have experiences that hold weight—and had a profound impact on their upbringing—all we know of their sister’s current state is that she’s an aging woman in poor health. Recy is seen only in photos, and towards the end of the movie. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like she’s telling her story.
One aspect that does help usher the narrative forward is the music. Fannie Lou Hamer, Dinah Washington, and others lend their voices to what seems like a hopeless situation. It adds to the haunting, terrifying loneliness that Recy Taylor must have felt after her rape — but other artistic liberties leave much to be desired.
Buirski uses vintage photography and video clips that don’t have much to do with what’s being said. It’s unnecessary filler that sometimes works, but is awkwardly placed most times. Many clips are used over and over again, as if the content isn’t good enough to sustain the film for 80-minutes. What is it about Recy’s story that the director felt the physical bodies of those involved wouldn’t be enough?
There are many speakers who take up space in Recy’s story that don’t belong. With the way Buirski frames it, too many white people take up space. Along with the interviews of Recy’s family members, there are interviews with scholars Crystal Feimster and Danielle McGuire who discuss why Recy Taylor’s story is an important catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. Outside of that, the film spends time with the Abbeville town historian. Why? He’s a cis-white man who’s most likely a part of the alt-right—he adds nothing to the story that I don’t already know.
Would this have turned out differently if maybe those in charge were people of color? Well, no. Many great documentaries exist because white creators have done wonders with the material. This isn’t one of those instances. This documentary lacks zeal, but that is mostly due to the director’s inexperience than it is a black and white thing. This felt like one of those long re-enactments you see on the ID channel. It doesn’t flow like a fully fleshed out documentary.
Maybe a short would have been more effective? I like documentaries because I can take the information I need and come to my own conclusions. When putting together the pieces of a story that affects those who are still alive, the information they give you should be treated with trust, love, and care. Yes, the documentary exposes a new generation to a old experience, but at what cost?
I’m angry with myself for disliking this film so much. If I would have hadn’t better understanding maybe I would have liked it more. I should have stayed behind for that Q&A after the screening, but I had to leave. If I stayed My question would have been, who is the target audience for this? From the outside looking in, it doesn’t look like anyone involved knew the answer.