A Tale of Two Women: How Buirski Bumbled Taylor’s Essential Role in America
There are certain seminal butterfly effect individuals in this nation’s complex history, without whom the America as we know it today, would cease to exist. One of those agents for change is Recy Taylor, whose rape and denial of justice sparked nationwide protest and activism which precursed the Civil Rights Movement. Nancy Buirski has brightly handled history told through a vitally emotional lens in her prior works The Loving Story (2011) and Afternoon of a Faun (2013), but here with The Rape of Recy Taylor some of her choices are questionable. While every element emphasizes Recy’s importance, and the reality women face preventing, dealing with, or seeking justice for sexual assault is thoroughly stressed as the overall focus, this docu slogs along as a mishmash of good intentions uncertain of what the takeaway should be.
Immediately diving into recollections by her siblings, aided by surreal, dream-like footage of dark forests and moonlit skies, the night of Recy Taylor’s gang rape by six white teens in 1944 paints a vivid picture of the common atrocity and insanity filling black female life in the segregated US. The aftermath of the rape as a gross miscarriage of justice is chronicled in interviews with writers, historians, lawyers, and relatives, aided by home videos, photos, mild recreations, and contemplative Herzog-esque landscape photography. Hounded by constant death threats and shepherded by Rosa Parks, Recy would climb onto the national stage as a spokeswoman against sexual assault, and just as quickly be forgotten by the movement she had heralded. All the while her story is used as a springboard to discuss several associated topics ranging from the lives of black women of that era, the commonness of the atrocities committed against her shared by the black community, to contemporary views surrounding sexual assault.
The original footage and drone cinematography by Blaire Johnson, Rex Miller and Steve Pearce is initially immersive and brooding. The period music, church choirs and interludes used as score are all puzzled together well by Randall Poster and manage to keep the film moving. While Buirski reunites with editor Anthony Ripoli (By Sidney Lumet, 2015), there appears to be less punctation or the same sharp finesse. A large portion of the original scenic footage is excessively reused, along with the same handful of photographs, to increasingly lesser impact. In several instances, interview audio drops out and the film takes a brief interlude set to footage of forests and movie theaters shot from car windows, stopping any existing flow right in its tracks. Though technically competent, coverage of events throughout the timeline is often muddled with Buirski’s desire to scattershoot as many relatable topics of discussion amongst the longer-than-needed runtime. Often retreading the same point-of-view prior to moving on to anything new, the doc fails to provide a deeper understanding of each point beyond interviewees verbally relaying those perspectives.
The Recy Taylor of today is nursing home bound and at an advanced age and unfortunately almost completely absent from her own story (receiving less than five minutes screentime). Her tale has been largely ignored nationally for decades, and regrettably she is underserved by the treatment she is given here. With the filmmakers trying to shove as many concurrent topics into The Rape of Recy Taylor, it ends up more meandering and confusing than informative or cathartic.
★★½ / ☆☆☆☆☆