Review: Till


Most adult in America are aware of the story of Emmett Till. He was a young Black American from Chicago who traveled to Mississippi in 1955 to visit relatives. There, he ran afoul of southern sentiments and was brutally murdered by a gang of white men. They believed he had somehow disrespected a white woman. This is a film of that story.

It begins in Chicago where Emmett and his mother are shopping at a downtown department store. The more subtle northern racism is on display, but his mother is used to it and knows how to work around it.

At home – in what is clearly a comfortable, middle class house – we learn that Emmett, known as “Bo” by his family and friends, is about to leave for the south to visit relatives. All but his mother are confident that the trip will be a wonderful experience. She fears the possibilities for terror and brutality that were (and to some extent still are) the hallmarks of white-black relations in the southern United States.

Our first intimation of trouble is when the black passengers on the train are required to relocate to a separate part of the train once it enters Mississippi. Next, Emmett is shown helping his relative pick cotton in a share-cropper arrangement. It is not to his Chicago liking.

After work, the fellows, including Emmett, go to town to the tiny town of Money. While his “boring” associates settle into playing games on the tables outside, he enters the general store to buy some candy. He childishly tries to make friends with the white woman behind the counter, which she takes as a disrespectful advance by a black boy. The rest of the story is all too well known, except to those who still believe that whites were the saviors of the black African slaves they imported to do the hard labor of making some white folks rich.

What exactly happened to Emmett is mercifully never shown in the picture, although one segment of the HBO series “Lovecraft Country” did re-enact the monstrous event in gory detail. Instead, the story concentrates on Emmett’s mother, her search for her son, and then her decision to tell the world about his loathsome treatment. It was her courage that raised her boy’s death from yet another tragic lynching to national and international shame. Despite that, no one has ever been convicted of Emmet’s murder, and his lying accuser, still living, faced no consequences.

The performance by Danielle Deadwyler (“The Harder They Fall”) as Mamie, Emmett’s mother, is extraordinary and dominates the film – so much so that the other players pale in comparison. This is clearly the intention of Nigerian writer/director Chinonye Chukwu (“Clemency”), who directs the developing story with a steady hand. Other performers of note include Jalyn Hall (“Bruiser”) as Emmett. He comes across as the sweet young man who’s upbringing in the north never prepared him for the obscene hatred of poor white Mississippians.

Also of note is Tosin Cole (“Unlocked”) as civil rights leader Medgar Evers. His performance comes across as an earnest young mad doing his best to support and protect Mamie Till when she ventures to Mississippi for the trial of Emmett’s accused killers. The real Evers himself was murdered eight years later by a white supremacist who was finally convicted after three trials and 31 years.

Finally, well-known personality Whoopi Goldberg appears in a minuscule part as Mamie’s mother and Emmett’s grandmother. Of more note than her performance is the fact that she strove for 20 years to get this story filmed, and was a producer on the project.

“Till” is an excellent production, well worth your time and hopefully your musing on how far our nation has come and how far we still have to go in terms of race relations. Worthy of note is that a federal law, the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, defining lynching as a federal hate crime, was finally passed in 2022. This was 67 years after the murder of Emmett Till, and 104 years after the act was first introduced in Congress.

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