By Anna Harman
This story was extremely difficult to translate to the big screen. Director and co-writer Chinonye Chukwu was very careful in telling the horrific, indubitable truth of the crimes committed against Emmett Till. “Till” portrayed the true story of 14-year-old Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) who was brutally murdered by white supremacists in Mississippi. The director didn’t stop at telling Emmett’s story, he also told the story of Mamie Till (Danielle Deadwyler), who became an inexhaustible advocate for justice after her son’s murder.
Emmett was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman, named Carolyn Bryant Donham, who was working at a grocery store in Mississippi. This was after he innocently told her she looked like a movie star and she took great offense to this. In response, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, Carolyn’s husband and his half-brother, kidnapped, beat, lynched and murdered the 14-year-old boy.
This crime has been made well known across the nation, so viewers knew what was to come from the very start. It was heartbreaking to watch the bittersweet moments between Till and his mother and to see how scared his mother was of him going to Mississippi. She tried to warn him about offending white people while he was in Mississippi, but he still ended up in harm’s way. His mother raised him with such love and compassion that he just simply wasn’t prepared for that kind of cruelty. Watching this brought a tear to every eye in the theater.
Jalyn Hall was a phenomenal casting choice to play Emmett Till. He portrayed a sweet, fun, joyful boy who didn’t understand the reality of the things going on in Mississippi at the time. I can’t imagine a better interpretation of Till. He made viewers truly see the loving relationship between Emmett and his mother.
The director chose not to show the murder, but instead depict the gut-wrenching aftermath. His mother chose to reveal Emmett’s beaten corpse to the press so the world would be exposed to the horrific reality of the crimes. The scene where people came to see Till’s body was incredibly heart-stirring. The horror on peoples’ faces as they realized the extent and the horror of the damage was so tragic.
One of the most heartbreaking, emotional parts of this movie was watching Mamie Till go through the stages of grief after finding out her son was dead. From her dropping to the floor upon first hearing the news, to sitting and staring into space in the days after, almost unable to function without her beloved son, was deeply tragic. It was horrible to watch a mother mourn her son so intensely. Danielle Deadwyler did an outstanding job with this performance of Mamie Till. The emotion she conveyed was so authentic, it was incredibly hard to watch. I can’t remember the last time I shed so many tears during a movie.
It was so moving to watch this movie after learning about this story for years in many of my history classes growing up. This was a real boy, with a real family that experienced a tragedy. It wasn’t just a story we all read in our history books. Sometimes the things we learn in our history classes feel so far away that we forget they are real moments in history involving real individuals.
The cruelty, horror, and depth of the crime that was committed against Till and many African Americans during this time period is unbelievable. We can’t forget about Till and all of the countless people who were murdered and mistreated. There is no explanation for the social injustice that took place in this country, and that continues to exist in some areas even today. The color of our skin does not make us more or less valuable. We are all children of the one true king, our God. He made all of us in his image. Not just white people, not just African Americans, or any other race for that matter. We are all the same because we belong to the family of God.
I think that this film is important for everyone to watch. It gives us insight into the lack of compassion and respect that was present in our country during that time, and that is still present in some ways, and it helps us understand how we can continue to grow our love for one another. This was a moving, deeply emotional film based on a true and tragic story. I really enjoyed the ways this movie honored the Till family.
I give “Till” a 10/10.
“Till” is now in theatres.
Anna Harman is a junior Biblical Studies major and also a reporter for Cedars. She appreciates writing, peppermint tea, flowers, and going to concerts.
Photos courtesy of Orion Pictures and Good Morning America.