The Rape of Recy Taylor

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Rape of Recy Taylor Movie Poster Image
Awful crime becomes civil rights flash point in moving docu.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 91 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Documentary circles around heavy but important topics -- rape, racism, reasons Recy Taylor didn't get justice in her lifetime -- that are intended to inspire a passion for equality and equity. Shows viewers that Taylor had a difficult life, but that history and minds were changed by her courageous fight. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Taylor was a hero, plain and simple. Viewers see why it was frightening and hard for her to speak up after her rape and hear examples of her perseverance and courage -- and the courage of other women and men who fought/fight for justice. Viewers also learn more about prominent activists like Rosa Parks and importance of civil rights advocacy. 

Violence

Rape at gunpoint: the crime is described repeatedly in clinical terms (Taylor says attackers "had sex" with her; in statements, her rapists say they "had intercourse" with her and that all the "boys" who raped Recy "used rubbers") against images of dark, scary woods and vintage "race film" footage of a white man trying to tear off a black woman's clothes and a crowd of white men pushing her to the ground and pulling off her shirt (showing her white slip beneath). Rape referred to as being "ravished"; Taylor is accused several times of being a prostitute/"whore" -- implication being that if she was a sex worker, her rape is somehow less important. History of white-on-black rape discussed, including talk about how white slave owners used to send young white men to rape their slaves. Images of men in KKK outfits. A professor talks about dangers that black women face in prison: "They may not come out." An old letter by Parks discusses a sexual assault on her; at one point she remembers saying, "If he wanted to kill me and rape a dead body, he was welcome." Image of a lynched man (Wesley Johnson) hanging from a tree, shown at length. A man describes how one of Taylor's rapists got a "whippin'" with a belt from his father, who "worked him over."

Sex

None of the sexual content in this movie is consensual; therefore, please see "Violence" for more detail.

Language

An official report quotes the sheriff of Abbeville, Alabama, saying "this negro is nothing but a whore." "N" word used several times. "Damned liar." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Rape of Recy Taylor is a powerful documentary about the 1944 gang rape of a black woman by white men and the victim's frustrating, fruitless pursuit of justice. Taylor's rape is described at length, albeit in clinical terms: She says her attackers "had sex" with her, while her attackers say they "had intercourse" with her (and admit to holding her at gunpoint). Taylor is accused of being a sex worker, as if that would make her rape less important. Viewers will hear a lot about the history of white-on-black rape, including the custom of white slave owners raping black slaves. A vintage letter from Rosa Parks describes a sexual assault in her own past; she says she told her attacker that he'd have to kill her and have sex with her dead body to get her "consent." A lynched man is shown in a historical photo, hanging from a tree; antique "race films" (made by black filmmakers for black audiences) show black women being assaulted (no nudity, but a woman's top is ripped off, revealing her slip). Expect to hear the "N" word as well as "whore" and "damned." Taylor emerges as a hero, with racism and violence the clear villains, and viewers will gain great sympathy for Taylor and for other men and women who've struggled under institutionalized racism.

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What's the story?

In 1944, in Abbeville, Alabama, young mother Recy Taylor was walking home from church with two friends when a group of seven white men abducted her at gunpoint and gang-raped her. But justice was never served in THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR. Courageously, Taylor spoke up about her rape, an act that could be dangerous, even deadly, in the Jim Crow-era South. But despite two hearings connected to her case, no arrests were ever made, and Taylor died in 2017, having received only a weak apology from the state of Alabama in 2011. But her case became a flash point in the civil rights movement, with activists like Rosa Parks and Esther Cooper Jackson using Taylor's story to illuminate the terrible mistreatment that black people, especially women, had to endure -- and in many ways, still do. 

 

Is it any good?

Deeply moving and horrifying in a way that only true stories can be, this documentary explores a little-remembered chapter in the ongoing battle for justice for African-Americans. Through vintage film footage, historical photos, and interviews with those familiar with Taylor's life and struggle (including her younger brother and sister, who vividly recall the events of the night Taylor was raped), viewers quickly understand the courage and strength it took for Taylor to speak up and to keep fighting in an era when, as civil rights activist Esther Cooper Jackson tells us, "Women were attacked, raped, disappeared. One had to be careful about what time of day you walked, particularly in a rural area."

The real bummer? Savvy viewers will note that even in the #MeToo era, when sexual assault and power dynamics are being examined more closely, women in general -- and black women in particular -- still don't get fair treatment by society or law enforcement. Still, hearing Taylor's story in her own words (director Nancy Buirski was able to interview Taylor for her film before Taylor died in 2017) and in the words of others with important things to say about race, racism, and crime, is a compelling, if upsetting, experience -- though ultimately an uplifting one. As Taylor says, "I can't help but tell the truth, what was done to me." She did. And through her truth, other women found it easier to find, if not the justice they deserved, at least a more fitting justice than Taylor got. Recy Taylor emerges as the hero of her story, even if she wasn't considered one until far too late. 

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the time period in which Recy Taylor lived. How are things different today? How are they the same? How has the #MeToo movement of 2017 and the modern focus on racism in law enforcement changed the picture for women in general -- and women of color in particular? 

  • How does Taylor demonstrate courage, perseverance, and integrity in her life? Why are these important character strengths?

  • The Rape of Recy Taylor was catapulted into prominence when Oprah mentioned Taylor in a 2018 Golden Globes speech. Was Oprah's mention of Taylor's story a good thing? Did it bring more attention to Taylor's story and to other black women who've endured sex crimes and other assaults? 

  • Why do you think the men who raped Taylor weren't punished? What repercussions did she face for naming them? Is it appropriate to refer to them as "boys"?

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