Melita Zajc
Melita Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher, combining practice, teaching and research in the field of communication, media studies and film theory. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

A timely documentary about the horrific rape and compelling bravery of Recy Taylor.

The Rape of Recy Taylor

Nancy Buirski

USA 2017 91 minutes

These matter-of-fact words introduce a 90-minute long documentary about the 1944 gang rape of Recy Taylor, a 24-year-old black mother and sharecropper. “It is an unspeakable crime”, says one of the scholars in the film in order to illustrate the heroism of Recy Taylor, who spoke about it from the start, never hesitating for a moment, despite the threats and brutal retributions. But this also shows the heavy task faced by those making the film: how to talk about rape, how to visualize it?

«The numbers of black women raped by white men in our country’s past is staggering. Afraid for their lives, just a courageous few spoke up.

Only in the black press and in “race films”–films made by mostly black filmmakers with black casts for black audiences–would one learn of such brutal crimes.

We use “race films” along with vintage footage and home movies to tell Recy Taylor’s story.»

Not Heard

As we have learned through the #MeToo movement, rape victims’ testimonies have remained subject to doubts and skepticism to the present day. The huge attention by social and mainstream media given to Black Panther, the newest blockbuster movie from the Marvel Franchise, directed by a black man and with a predominantly black cast, indicates another difficulty in making this film: black people are only at present gaining public visibility. As one of the articles about Black Panther bluntly explained, “If you are white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often…(while) those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multi-faceted.”

https://vimeo.com/243681845

The silence and invisibility The Rape of Recy Taylor had to break were extraordinary, resulting from the gravity of the crime and from the person subjected to it. The filmmakers confronted this straightforwardly, creating a powerful discourse against sexism and racism. They mostly used materials that were already available and accommodated the visual means of expression to the development and requirement of the film’s narration. Choosing minimalist solutions, they produced optimum effects.

«Recy Taylor identified her rapists, though few women spoke up in fear for their lives.»

At the very beginning, her brother Robert Corbitt and her sister Alma Daniels explain what happened to Recy Taylor the night she was raped. We only see them talking, their voices accompanied by shots of (most probably local) landscapes. And these unorganized, poorly lit views of compounds, woods, and lawns gradually fill up with immense sadness. As their recollections evolve, we hear about their father guarding the house with a double-barreled shotgun day and night ever since, and hear the historians say that the rape of a black woman by a white man was not unusual because black people were not regarded as humans.

Not Silenced

We see old photos and race film clips with white men chasing black women, and the sadness turns into despair. The perpetrators told Recy to keep quiet, but she told everybody about what happened. They burned the porch of her home, but they did not silence her.

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