It's been a long-time coming that the story of Emmett Till is finally getting the mainstream spotlight. Audiences need to ready themselves for "Till," because it's not only important, it's timely.
Told from the perspective of Emmett's mother, Mamie Till, actress Danielle Deadwyler has rocketed up to the top of my list of Best Actress performances in 2022. She carries the entirety of the film, showcasing a range of emotions both outwards and inwards, and commands the screen with dignity and grace like perhaps no one has since the early days of Sydney Poitier. Some might say that playing a grieving mother is one-note, but Deadwyler fills in the blanks in creating one of the more memorable film characters of the year.
Emmett Till (played in the film by Jalyn Hall) was just 14 years-old in 1955, when he was kidnapped, tortured and lynched by some white men in Mississippi, after he was accused of insulting a white grocery store clerk, Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett). Tragically, stories like Emmett's were not rare, but what made his stand out was that his mother, Mamie, insisted on an open casket funeral for her child. The bloated, transformed body of her son was put on display for all the world to see - first-hand- the evils of racism in the South and across the world. The outrage from what people saw galvanized the black community, and would form the basis and the foundation for the coming Civil Rights Movement years later.
Till's murderers were acquitted by an all-white jury, even though the men would tell their story of how they murdered Emmett to a magazine just a year later.
The movie shows us everything except the brutal murder. We don't need to have seen that anyways...Emmett's body is horrific enough. We get to see the sweet innocence of youth in young Emmett and how quickly it was taken from him.
Mamie...I mean, how would any mother cope with the brutal murder of their teenage son? We see the crippling grief in Deadwyler's face, but she never gives in. She's fueled by the memory of her son, and the rage contained within her is focused like a laser-beam on making sure her son didn't die in vain.
Around the edges, "Till" is structured traditionally. It is, essentially, a courtroom drama. But it is so much more than that. We see the broken system, the deeply-rooted hate and racism, the unspeakably horrific actions. But like Mister Rogers told us, when there is a tragedy, look for the helpers. Mamie refused to allow her son to be just another victim of the system. Her strength bleeds through the screen courtesy of Danielle Deadwyler - my top pick for Best Actress by a landslide - and it does something that few films are able to achieve: It inspires.
Emmett Till died in 1955, and the Emmett Till Antilynching Act - which redefines "lynching" as any "conspired bias-motivated offense which results in death or serious bodily injury" - was just passed...in March of 2022.
"Till" tells of us an earlier time in our history, that acted as a catalyst to another important era in our history, and yet it grounds us in the reality of today. If only more people fought like Mamie.
Run Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.
Starring: Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison, Haley Bennett, Whoopi Goldberg.
Directed by Chinonye Chukwu ("Clemency," "alaskaLand").
"Till" is in theaters on Friday, October 21st, 2022.
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