The Rape of Recy Taylor is a poignant documentary about a Black woman who was gang raped by six white men in the South during the Jim Crow era in 1944. I caught up with director Nancy Buirski for an interview.
Stephanie A. Taylor (SAT): How did you hear about the case of Recy Taylor?
Nancy Buirski (NB): I read the book At the Dark End of the Street by Daniel McGuire. That book deals with a much longer tradition of African American women and their impact on the Civil Rights Movement. It starts with Recy Taylor and goes through Black Power. The chapters of Recy Taylor are incredibly moving. They’re the first two chapters in the book. I was shocked by not knowing the story and not knowing about the chronic rapes that happened in Jim Crow South. Obviously one knows about lynching but rapes have been more hidden partly because women weren’t speaking up in those days. Lynching were meant to be public. There was this egregious abuse f Black women. Some people knew of it; scholars and historians. But the general public doesn’t know. I just feel that it was a story that had to be told. This was a woman who was courageous enough to speak up when I life was in danger; because she knew she did nothing wrong, there was no shame what happened to her and that this had to stop. And yet as soon as this happened, she knew she had to speak up even though they threatened her life.
SAT: Tell me your experience with making the film.
NB: I started the film about three years ago, as soon as I read the book. I went with a producer to Abbeville, AL to interview Recy Taylor who is 96 years old, and didn’t want to waste a minute. I wanted to make sure we got her while she was healthy and could speak to us. We not only interviewed Recy Taylor but her brother Robert Corbitt and her sister Alma Daniels. We were there for a couple of weeks. Then we came back and looked at what we had. We returned and got more interviews. We knew we had a very important story. We were just driven to tell it. Her brother was passionate about getting the story out, there was no arm twisting or convincing him to do this. He had worked very closely with Daniel McGuire on this book and he wanted to work equally as close with us on making the film. It’s been, on that level, a very rewarding experience, to get to know the family and work with them so closely. It wasn’t always a rewarding experience to be in Abbeville. Some people were wonderful and very receptive. Others weren’t so wonderful and receptive. It’s a reflection of what we feel are still some of the tension that still exist there.
SAT: I understand you’re nominated for best documentary at the CIFF. How does it feel?
NB: It’s an honor. It’s what you want. I’m not sure how I feel about competitions in general because I think all films should be recognized and supported. But, there’s no question that if you’re nominated, and especially if you win it draws more attention to your story. It you want people to see your movie that’s a big part of it. It’s what the industry does and we’re very honored to be apart of that.
SAT: To what do you owe your success?
NB: I think it’s usually about the story. I think that the success almost has to do with the power of the story. And then of course you hope that you tell it well. And that you put it on the screen so people will feel its resonance. It also has to do with the people you work with. Part of the skill of making a movie is finding the right people to make it with.
SAT: Advice to women filmmakers?
NB: I would just say just make your film and don’t let anybody tell you no. I’d also would advise them to look at the best work out there. Look at the films that help you solve your problems, be inspired by them. Don’t be intimidated by them. Keep the bar very high because if you look at the best stuff that’s what you’ll want to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re female. I would almost say don’t think of yourself as a female filmmaker. If you want to be an activist and help other filmmakers, that’s great. But in terms of making your movie, just make your movie.
© Stephanie A. Taylor (10/31/17) FF2 Media
Read Stephanie Taylor's review of The Rape of Recy Taylor here!
Photos: Nancy Buirski & still from The Rape of Recy Taylor
Photo Credits: Tribeca Film Festival