Director Taylor Rees relates the horrifying history of America’s lynching culture in the story of a lynching victim in the short film, Ashes to Ashes.
Rees follows the friendship of Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker, MD (who is also one of the film’s producers) and leather artist Winfred Rembert. Both Whitaker and Rembert grew up in Georgia, and it’s Rembert’s personal trauma that propels the narrative. Rembert is one of the few Black Americans to survive a lynching attack in the 1960s. However, the act still haunts him, to the point of affecting his health decades later. Rembert’s history intersects with Whitaker’s mission to give the 4,000 unnamed Black men, women and children lynched by white supremacists a proper burial to help America heal from its wounds.
Rees came to the project after being asked for help by Whitaker, who was her neighbor during his childhood in Massachusetts in 2015. Her request for help documenting her friendship with Rembert and her goal of honoring the unnamed lynching victims in America became a project to examine and confront the country’s history of racial crimes.
The film is a heartwrenching testimony to how racism can affect every aspect of a person’s wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of America itself. You can watch the film for free on Vimeo, as well as below this post.
Rembert’s art has been shown in galleries throughout America and has been profiled in outlets like the New York Times. He has also been named an honoree of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative in 2015 and was a recipient of a USA Fellowship in 2017. His upcoming full-color memoir, Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2021. You can learn more about his art at his website.
Whitaker is furthering her campaign to honor unnamed lynching victims with her second phase of her Ashes 2 Ashes project, “The Noose: Tread of Hate and Resilience.” You can learn more about her activism online.
Photo: Ashes to Ashes