Till tells the real-life story of Mamie Till-Mobley when the lynching of her son Emmett Till in 1955 in Money, Mississippi. The case took the USA by storm and has been discussed in the civil rights movement ever since. The year 1955 may sound far in the past, but with reports of the Emmitt Till memorial sign needing a bulletproof replacement in recent years, the time feels right for this horrific historical event that sparked a seismic change in American history to be told. While this was a complete surprise to this reviewer, nothing could prepare me for the incredible storytelling and moving performances that shook me to my core.
Director and co-writer Chinonye Chukwu along with Keith Beauchamp & Michael Reilly spend the first act of the film exploring who Emmett (Jalyn Hall) was as a fourteen-year-old living in Chicago and the complete world away from the racism that permeated white culture in the South during this time. Emmett’s mother Mamie (Danielle Deadwyler) works in a corporate office, is dating Gene (Sean Patrick Thomas) and has a close relationship with her mother Alma (Whoopi Goldberg). When Alma suggests that Emmett goes to Mississippi to visit his cousins and get to know where he comes from, Mamie has her reservations but reluctantly agrees after Emmett’s enthusiasm to take the trip.
When Emmett reaches the county of Money and reunites with his cousin Simeon (Tyrik Johnson) and uncle Preacher (John Douglas Thompson) he goes to work with them in the fields picking cotton, doing chores and adjusting to life in a completely different state. Mamie tries to alert Emmett on the ways to behave around white people in the South, however, it is clear that he doesn’t understand the seriousness of this when the group of workers go to hang out at a convenience store and Emmett acts too friendly with the white sales girl Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett) After being chased out of the area, the events that take place are nothing short of horrific.
While we don’t see any direct violence, the score and imagery of Emmett being dragged from his bed and thrown into the back of a truck are enough to imprint on your memory for days to come. The confusion and desperation of Emmett and his family as they desperately try anything to stop what is happening followed by Hall’s screams that allude to his murder.
The remainder of the film focuses on Mamie and her desperate attempts to have her son’s body sent back to Chicago and finding justice for the people that carried out this act. Deadwyler commands the screen in every single scene she is in for the remainder of the movie. Her harrowing screams as she surveys the dead body of her only son are only echoed by her anger and resolution during the trial consisting of an all-white jury. Chukwu masterfully guides the remainder of the film as we go through the trial process and what moments made Mamie decide to get involved with the NAACP that would define the civil rights movements for decades to come.
There isn’t much that will be able to prepare you for this movie, it is powerful and moving and will shock you to your core. The closing moments of the films hit hardest, delivering a harrowing reminder about the fight for civil rights for black Americans. Having the story of Emmett and Mamie told through Chukwu’s lens ensures it is done with the most care and can be as concise as a two-hour movie will allow, if that isn’t enough, Danielle Deadwyler’s career-defining performance in this film is worth the price of admission alone.
Till is now showing in Australian cinemas.