Till (2022)

“I wanted him to be a boy and not have his childhood taken away from him. But it happened anyway.”

I was a teenager when I first learned about the story of Emmett Till. It was around the time my social studies class got up to the Civil Rights Movement, there was a documentary on PBS about what happened to him and how the murder changed the course of the Civil Rights Movement and to this day, the story stays relevant and will stay relevant in perpetuity. A constant reminder of the horrific and heartbreaking true story the 2022 film Till is based on. Believing back then what happened to Emmett is still difficult to comprehend today imagining that anyone could get away with the gruesome murder.

It was 1955 in Chicago when 14-year-old Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) was set to embark on a trip to Mississippi with his cousins at the reluctance of his mother Mamie Till (Danielle Deadwyler). Hard as it was to let Emmett go on the trip, Mamie allowed it of her son with extreme caution on how to behave in the deep south during this time. Promising to write and or call whenever he could to ensure his safety, saying goodbye at the train station would be the last time Mamie would see her son alive.

The actual murder of Emmett Till isn’t so easily believed. Reading about it doesn’t do the story justice but seeing pictures at your own discretion, because of what was done to his body makes it real. What happened to Emmett Till is gruesome, tragic and haunting and knowing that his murderers never saw a conviction despite confessing in an interview makes the story 100 times more infuriating at the lack of justice toward this 14-year-old boy.

Director and co-writer Chinonye Chukwu skips the act of the murder assuming whoever watches her film has some previous knowledge about the case. If you don’t have that prior knowledge, it’s not worth having your heart ripped out over. However, Chukwu does recreate the iconic photo of Mamie and her soon to be husband Gene Mobley (Sean Patrick Thomas) standing over Emmett’s heavily bloated and disfigured body. During the trial of Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett) and J. W. Milam in Mississippi, where the jury featured 12 white men and a white judge, Mamie was asked how she knew it was her son and not some random person. Mamie replied with 4 simple words “A Mother Always Knows”.

At the center of Till is a force of a performance by Danielle Deadwyler. All of the attention is deservedly pointed in her direction as she projects the pain Mamie suffered on screen. You can’t take your eyes off her and you won’t want to. Deadwyler gives one of the best performances of the year, channeling Mamie with every facial expression and body movement. Heartwreching as it is, Mamie turned her tragedy into hope for the future so that one else’s son would go through what Emmett endured.

Though Jalyn is in a small portion of the film, playing the titular role, the gravity of what Emmett Till meant to the Civil Rights Movement sends shockwaves throughout the 130-minute runtime. Jalyn Hall is charismatic and his spirit as Emmett lifts the films message higher than it’s ever been. Emmett was just a boy, having fun, living in an era that was cruel with zero repercussions. His story happened nearly 70 years ago but the relevance of how society is today is just as impactful.

Just this year, 67 years after his death, an antilynching law was passed making lynching a federal hate crime. Just as it was back then, Emmett Till’s story is important for how we treat one another today, tomorrow and years from now. Countless others like Emmett won’t have their name said aloud in media but it’s because of Emmett that they won’t be forgotten – those countless others matter, they deserve to be remembered just like Emmett Till will be remembered as a beacon of hope for generations.

As for the story itself – the sequence of events that led up to the murder and trial are still to this day unclear, but one thing can be taken away with absolute certainty – Mamie loved her son, would do anything for him – her and Emmett unknowingly at the time became the faces of Civil Rights, fighting injustice and equality for all. The script written by Michael Reilly, Keith Beauchamp and Chukwu waste no time establishing the relationship between mother and son. It’s an unbreakable bond told through thematic storytelling. Danielle Deadwyler and Jalyn Hall perfectly exemplify that relationship in the little time they share together on screen. Their joy and happiness with one another shines through the grim reality that this story brings.

The Story of Emmett Till is one that deserves to be told and retold as a reminder of the inequality in America. Equally powerful and present, Chukwu reignites Emmett Till to be a prominent voice among those like Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. The legacy of Emmett and Mamie Till Mobley will never be forgotten.

Screenplay By: Michael Reilly, Keith Beauchamp & Chinonye Chukwu

Directed By: Chinonye Chukwu

Music By: Abel Korzeniowski

Cinematography: Bobby Bukowski

Starring: Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison, Haley Bennett, Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Patrick Thomas

Release Date: October 14, 2022

Running Time: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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