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The Harrowing Documentary About Gang-Rape Victim Recy Taylor Comes to Glide

Shining a light on a forgotten case, thanks in part to Oprah.

Recy Taylor, 1944

 

In 1944, while Recy Taylor, a 24-year old African-American sharecropper, was walking home from church in Abbeville, Alabama, six white men abducted her at gunpoint, took her to a nearby pecan orchard, and raped her. The men were never arrested—but Taylor’s story was not forgotten.

In 2011, the Alabama state legislature formally issued an apology to Taylor, and last month, Oprah Winfrey honored Taylor during her Golden Globes speech. On Saturday, Feb. 10, a free screening of the documentary The Rape of Recy Taylor, will be held as part of a special event at Glide Memorial Church that also includes a Q&A with director Nancy Buirski.

Silicon Valley philanthropist Felicia Horowitz says she felt a responsibility to make sure Taylor’s story “did not live and die at the Golden Globes.” When Horowitz learned that the film wasn’t playing in any local theaters and not available through any streaming services, she tracked down Buirski, got a hold of the documentary, and organized the screening. Glide is a fitting venue to watch the documentary, Horowitz adds, because Taylor “was a very religious woman who spent a lot of her life in church.”

Buirski first learned about Taylor in 2015, after producer Amy Tiemann gave her a copy of Danielle L. McGuire’s book At the Dark End of the Street, which has chapters devoted to Taylor and her relationship with Rosa Parks, whom the NAACP sent from Montgomery to Abbeville to investigate the case. “I was surprised that Recy Taylor hadn’t gotten more attention,” says Buirski. “That’s sometimes why you make a movie—to shine a light.”

Within weeks of reading the book, Buirski and a camera crew traveled to Abbeville to interview Taylor—then in her nineties—and her family. “We were well aware of her age and knew we had to move quickly,” Buirski says. “We did so with no money; we just did it.” (The financing fell into place later.) Buirski previously directed The Loving Story—about Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who successfully challenged the Virginia law banning interracial marriages. That film also focused on what Buirski calls reluctant heroes: “The Lovings and Recy Taylor are heroic because of what happened to them, and how they responded.”

Although Taylor recounted her story to others—the sheriff, Parks, writers like Earl Conrad (who included Taylor in his 1947 book Jim Crow America)—she was not an activist by any means. “She’s a poor sharecropper; she’s just trying to survive,” says Buirski of Taylor’s mindset back then. “It’s not like she was reluctant to talk, but she wasn’t usually called on to talk.” During filming in Abbeville, Taylor’s brother, Robert Corbitt, took Buirski to the pecan grove where the gang rape took place. “For me and the crew, it was eerie and upsetting,” Buirski recalls. “I wasn’t trying to sensationalize it, but I was trying to capture this feeling—you want to put yourself in the place, to kind of go back in time, and try to imagine what it might be like, because you want your audience to do the same thing.”

According to Buirski, Corbitt was gratified that there was renewed interest in Taylor’s story. “[Corbitt] has spent his life talking about this crime and how little justice there was for his sister,” says Buirski. “None of these men were ever indicted. None of them were ever found guilty. They all got away with the crime. That’s a hard thing to live with.”

Taylor died on Dec. 28, 2017, at the age of 97, not having seen the documentary, which opened at the Venice International Film Festival this past September, and showed in October at the New York Film Festival. In addition to Saturday’s event at Glide, The Rape of Recy Taylor will screen in Montgomery, Ala., in February and at Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in March.

In the #MeToo era, the director observes, Taylor’s story is especially relevant. “The courage of people to speak up in 2017 was preceded in 1944 by this African-American woman who spoke up when her life was in danger,” says Buirski. “She was in profound danger and her family was at risk as well. And Recy Taylor wasn’t alone. There were other Recy Taylors.”

To attend Saturday’s 11:30am free screening at Glide, register for tickets here.

 

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