The Knockturnal | NYFF Review: ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’

by Talia Smith

The black woman’s body has been viewed under a duo racist and sexist gaze since the founding of our country. Dating as far back to when the first black woman stepped onto U.S soil, blackness had always been ‘othered’: made to seem inferior or exotic in nature. So, it came as no surprise when the black woman’s body became a commodity to U.S slave masters and government officials like Thomas Jefferson. For too long the sexualizing and dehumanizing of black women had been swept under the rug as apart of everyday life, however the  2017 release of the film  ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ rejects this silence and uses the theatre as a space to hold a mirror up to the face of United States history.

‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ in title alone, is powerful: forcing you to say her name, and acknowledge what was done that night in 1944. The film is not for the faint of heart, as it deals with heavy realities and tells the story of Recy Taylor, the black woman who was gang raped by 6 white men who were never brought to justice.

Throughout the film, we follow the story of Recy as told by her brother, Robert, and Alabama historians. Director, Nancy Buirski, does a wonderful job of visually mapping and connecting Recy’s case with the heavy involvement women of color have had in pushing the civil rights movement forward. We are given a new understanding of civil rights leaders,  like Rosa Parks, who dedicated much of her time post-Montgomery bus boycott to cases of sexual assault against black women.

Buirski does a great job of connecting all of the historical dots. We see how past racial positioning have shaped our current day social standings. No stone goes unturned as, Buirski even examines how the treatment of women of color has its lineage in shaping the way black family roles are set up.

Upon thinking about it, I can not name a film more important in 2017. In the wake of the Charlottesville riots, the film mixes past outrage with a present day viewpoint. The film is so powerful and emotionally charged it will leave viewers wanting to leave the theater to go out and protest more than 70 years later.

We screened the film at the 2017 New York Film Festival.