On Tuesday, February 2nd The Critics Choice Association hosted the 3rd Annual Celebration of Black Cinema, via a virtual ceremony, to honor 10 visionary films and 15 actors, producers, and directors of the season.
Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, a man of many names.
‘Baltimore Rising’ is a 2017 documentary on the protests in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. It was created, directed, and produced by actor and filmmaker Sonja Sohn and HBO Films.
‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ is the most important film of 2017. The politically charged film will leave you fired up and ready to make your voice heard. Shortly after the spectacular premiere at New York Film Festival, The Knockturnal gained exclusive access to the film’s panel, featuring Taylor’s brother, scholar Crystal Feimster, actor Cynthia Erivo, and director Nancy Buirski. Catch the commentary below:
Director, Nancy Buirski
On films immortalizing a story:
“So while I was in the middle of making the film I realized these stories were connected … I’ll just say that I met Recy, her family, and Robert the day that Barack Obama as inaugurated. And I went there with my family, I brought them a box of the legal documents and I think it was really import that they weren’t able to find anything and Robert had searched his whole life to find something. And the documents that I had brought back- town, those young men, and the historians in Alabama all tried to erase it and make it disappear and that erasure is anther kind of error and injustice. So the documents brought that back by saying of course what happened to you was real and no one can erase it. And I think this film adds a layer to that. No one can take this away anymore.”
Actor, Cynthia Erivo:
On the role actors play in aiding these stories:
“I feel like my job as an actor is to tell the stories people otherwise wouldn’t get to see or know about. There are things that are hidden and swept under the rug and I get the idea to get them out so there are no longer hidden. And I agree with what Nancy said, once it is part of a film it’s written down forever and can not be erased. So the idea that I was even able to be a small part of this means a lot to me.”
Scholar, Crystal Feimster
On the importance of the film:
“I think one of the things that Recy did was always maintain her humanity as a mother, a sister, and as a daughter. But then also, I think there is also the work that we do at different levels. For me as a scholar who works in the field and works on race and sexual violence-doing that deep work and showing these people as not just victims right. So the documentary does that work, it gives us humanity it shows us humanity, and brings humanity to Recy and her story. And then Nancy picks it up and she sees this as a story that’s to be told, and makes this beautiful film that humanizes the story at every level. So it’s not just we have this black woman who’s brutally assaulted but we have these young white boys who believe they have the right to behave in a certain way. That is part of a long tradition of the south that is not just about a bad apple, but this how racial and sexual violence functions. And you can use different terminology, but it really requires, artist, and historians, and family members to come out and be a voice to this story and we have to voice those wrongs in order to make them wrong.”
The black woman’s body has been viewed under a duo racist and sexist gaze since the founding of our country. Dating as far back to when the first black woman stepped onto U.S soil, blackness had always been ‘othered’: made to seem inferior or exotic in nature. So, it came as no surprise when the black woman’s body became a commodity to U.S slave masters and government officials like Thomas Jefferson. For too long the sexualizing and dehumanizing of black women had been swept under the rug as apart of everyday life, however the 2017 release of the film ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ rejects this silence and uses the theatre as a space to hold a mirror up to the face of United States history.
‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ in title alone, is powerful: forcing you to say her name, and acknowledge what was done that night in 1944. The film is not for the faint of heart, as it deals with heavy realities and tells the story of Recy Taylor, the black woman who was gang raped by 6 white men who were never brought to justice.
Throughout the film, we follow the story of Recy as told by her brother, Robert, and Alabama historians. Director, Nancy Buirski, does a wonderful job of visually mapping and connecting Recy’s case with the heavy involvement women of color have had in pushing the civil rights movement forward. We are given a new understanding of civil rights leaders, like Rosa Parks, who dedicated much of her time post-Montgomery bus boycott to cases of sexual assault against black women.
Buirski does a great job of connecting all of the historical dots. We see how past racial positioning have shaped our current day social standings. No stone goes unturned as, Buirski even examines how the treatment of women of color has its lineage in shaping the way black family roles are set up.
Upon thinking about it, I can not name a film more important in 2017. In the wake of the Charlottesville riots, the film mixes past outrage with a present day viewpoint. The film is so powerful and emotionally charged it will leave viewers wanting to leave the theater to go out and protest more than 70 years later.
We screened the film at the 2017 New York Film Festival.
“That Justice is a blind goddess. Is a thing to which we black are wise. Her bandage hides two festering sores. That once perhaps were eyes…”