The legacy of Emmett Till endures in this powerful drama
Once in a rare while, a movie invites us not just to watch but to bear witness. One such movie is Till, a powerful biopic recounting the racist murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) and the lifelong fight for justice endured by his mother Mamie Till Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler).
When Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black teen from Chicago was murdered by white men in Mississippi in 1995, his mother Mamie insisted that his mutilated and decomposing body lie in an open casket because she believed that the whole nation should bear witness to the brutal lynching of her son, saying: “They had to see what I had seen. The whole nation had to bear witness to this.”
The published images of Emmett’s slain body, so severely damaged it was identified only by the silver ring on one finger, sparked universal outrage and shaped the civil rights movement in America. Director Chinonye Chukwu focuses on Mamie as she evolves from a grieving mother into a fearless activist, saying,
“Had it not been for Mamie, her son’s memory would have evaporated into thin air… I felt compelled to champion Mamie’s legacy and center her in the spotlight where she rightfully belongs.”
The film is timely as the Emmett Till case continues to go through highs and lows and America still grapples with race-related deaths. The Emmett Hill Antilynching Act was signed into law on March 29, 2022, making lynching a federal hate crime while just recently, on August 9, 2022, a grand jury in Mississippi declined to indict the white woman (Carolyn Bryant) whose accusations against Emmett Till prompted the attack.
Till will make its world premiere on the opening weekend of the 60th New York Film Festival taking place from September 30 to October 16, 2022. During the festival, high school students will be invited to special screenings “to ensure this film can be seen by younger generations.”
Till is set for a release by MGM’s Orion Pictures to select theaters on October 14, 2022, followed by a nationwide release on Oct. 28.
Till’s emotional trailer begins with Emmett in the summer of 1955, alive and safe at home with his mother Mamie, as he excitedly prepares to leave Chicago to visit his cousins in Mississippi. “He just doesn’t understand how different things are in Mississippi,” says Mamie, who warns Emmett to “be small down there.” Emmett responds by clowning around for his mother, “You mean like this?” Smartly dressed in his suit and tie, Emmett travels to Mississippi where he enjoys cotton-picking with his cousins and wistfully views the southern green pastures, oblivious to the dangers ahead.
His life takes a fateful turn when, at a small store, Emmett encounters store owner Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett) whose accusation against Emmett ignites a brutal reaction. White men kidnap Emmett during the night and what follows are heart-wrenching scenes of Mamie’s grief over her murdered son and her resolve to show the world the violence inflicted upon him. When a funeral director asks Mamie if he can “fix him up a little bit,” Mamie says, “No. They have to see it for themselves.” The open casket viewing of Emmett’s body makes headlines. Turning her grief into action, Mamie becomes a powerful speaker for civil rights. “The lynching of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us anywhere in the world had better be the business of us all.”
Along with the trailer, director Chukwu released a statement to talk about her approach to telling the Emmett and Mamie Till Mobley story:
The crux of this story is not about the traumatic, physical violence inflicted upon Emmett – which is why I refused to depict such brutality in the film – but it is about Mamie’s remarkable journey in the aftermath. She is grounded by the love for her child, for at its core, Till is a love story. Amidst the inherent pain and heartbreak, it was critical for me to ground their affection throughout the film. The cinematic language and tone of Till was deeply rooted in the balance between loss in the absence of love; the inconsolable grief in the absence of joy; and the embrace of Black life alongside the heart-wrenching loss of a child.
A second trailer for Till was released on October 4, 2022.
Danielle Deadwyler leads the ensemble cast that includes Jalyn Hall (Space Jam: A New Legacy), Frankie Faison (The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain), Haley Bennett (Swallow), Sean Patrick Thomas (Reasonable Doubt), John Douglas Thompson (The 355) and Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act).
Deadwyler’s passionate performance in Till is expected to be a breakthrough moment for the actress who also stars in the HBO Max series Station Eleven and in Netflix’s Western movie The Harder They Fall. Deadwyler was also slated to star in J.J. Abram’s series Demimonde before the project was shelved.
Chukwu is herself a breakthrough director. She is the first black woman to win the Sundance festival’s biggest prize, the Grand Jury Prize for her 2019 film Clemency (Alfre Woodard) which she wrote and directed.
Till is produced by Keith Beauchamp, Barbara Broccoli, Whoopi Goldberg, Thomas Levine, Michael Reilly, and Fredrick Zollo. Chukwu co-wrote the script with Beauchamp and Reilly, and executive produced with Preston Holmes.
The story of Till is based on the more than 27-year research conducted by documentarian Keith Beauchamp who had a close relationship with Mamie Till Mobley and Emmett’s cousin Simeon Wright, an eyewitness to the kidnapping of Emmett.
The official synopsis reads:
Till is a profoundly emotional and cinematic film about the true story of Mamie Till Mobley’s relentless pursuit of justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, who, in 1955, was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi. In Mamie’s poignant journey of grief turned to action, we see the universal power of a mother’s ability to change the world.