Till

Review of compelling racial drama, ‘Till,’ based on a true story

January 11, 2023 Mario Bautista 173 views

‘TILL’ is the true story of Emmett Till and his single mom, Mamie. Emmet, 14 years old, left their home in Chicago in 1955 to have a vacation with their relatives in a town called Money in Mississippi. He returned home as a corpse, the victim of brutal lynching in the Deep South.

All the racial problems the U.S. face today started when English colonizers brought in black persons from Africa to America as slaves when they occupied the original 13 colonies in the early 1500s.

The huge success of the cotton industry in the Deep South increased the demand for slaves used in planting and picking cotton. The Southern states became known as slave societies.

Under their law, an enslaved person can be treated as property by slave owners who can buy and sell them. It became the central issue of the American Civil War and ended when Pres. Abraham Lincoln abolished it in 1865.

But though slavery was abolished, the racial prejudice remained through segregation and discrimination. And it persists until today, as evidenced in hate crimes and race riots stressing that “black lives matter”.

Many blacks moved to the Northern cities then, like Chicago and Detroit, where there is no outright racial bias. One of them is the family of Mamie Till (played by Danielle Deadwyler, now seen in the Netflix miniseries, “From Scratch”), a widow who works as the only black woman then in the Air Force.

Her life was shattered when she got a call that her only son is missing in Mississippi, where white supremacists rule. The boy made the mistake of complimenting a white woman for her beauty, the cashier in a convenience store, then whistling at her. This maybe permissible up North where he lives, but in the South…

That same night, he is kidnapped from the home of his relatives, beaten up, tied with barbed wire, shot dead and thrown into a river. The actual torture is not shown but we can hear the boy’s cries while his tormentors are brutalizing him.

The film is a tearjerker, starting from that scene where Mamie meets the boy’s wooden coffin on the train station and when she insists to see him while lying on the morgue. What you’ll see about what they did to the bludgeoned boy is surely not for those with weak stomachs.

During the wake and the funeral, Mamie insists that the coffin be left open for the world to see the violence the murderers did to her son. In her quest for justice, she persisted in bringing to court the men who killed his son with the help of sympathetic policiticians.

She risked her own life when she insisted that she will personally go to Mississippi to testify that the body they buried is really her son, as the defense claims it’s not really Emmet.

But she ultimately realizes that the trial is a sham. All the 12 jurors are white, the judge is white, and the woman who caused the lynching of Emmet is allowed to brazenly tell lies in court.

The film delineates the politicalization of an oppressed black woman. Mamie is transformed to being an educator who dedicated her life to being a civil rights activist that gave her the Congressional Medal of Honor. The film is a powerful tribute to what she went through. It also shows what she has accomplished and contributed to the civil right movement by bringing a very racist crime to public awareness.

“Till” is directed by Chinonye Chukwu, also a black woman who made an impressive debut in the 2019 drama, “Clemency”, the story of a female prison warden played by Alfre Woodard. The production values are first rate, specially the well-researched period production design.

But it is Danielle Deadwyler’s performance as Mamie that holds the film together and makes it a truly absorbing, gripping experience. There are long “tuhog” scenes where the director wisely just focuses on her grieving face to show all the emotions, reactions she experiences and the tears that seem to naturally well up from her pair of very expressive eyes.

The film’s epilogue says that Emmett Till’s murderers, JW Milam and Roy Bryant, who were acquitted in the farcical trial, admitted in an interview with Look Magazine that they really killed Emmett.

For this, they were paid $4,000 and remained scot-free all the rest of their lives. Meantime, the Emmett Till Anti-Launching Act was finally approved into law only in March, last year, 67 years after Emmett’s murder.

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