Till gives us a glimpse into the life of Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) and his mother, Mamie (Danielle Deadwyler), in the short time that led up to his murder and the battle that was its aftermath. After her son was killed, Mamie did everything in her power to put his murderers behind bars, becoming a symbol in the fight for equality in the process. The film follows her and what she had to endure in this battle that would eventually change America and the world. (Special shoutout to Deadwyler who played Mamie with such grace, and who I just found out played Cuffee in The Harder They Fall! So yeah, she’s amazing).
I was nervous going into this film because I’d seen the pictures of Emmett Till at his funeral and didn’t even want to imagine how a 14-year-old ended up like that. I’m glad the family of the Tills were involved in creating this film because it replaced the ‘spectacle’ that we’re used to in films like this with ‘intention’.
A line that Mamie says in the film summarizes her intentions and, really, I think, the intention of this film; “I want America to bear witness…” Mamie wanted America to see how deeply rotten their society was because of racism, and this film wants us all to see the rotten roots so we can continue (or begin) the process of uprooting them.
But this film is not just about Emmett Till’s horrific murder. It’s about a mother choosing to invite the world into the most difficult part of her life, and then, having lost her initial battle, taking her pain beyond fighting for herself to fighting for black children across the country. This vulnerability and strength that she exhibited caused a domino effect of inspiration and indignation in the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. who were on the frontlines of the civil rights movement and broke down major walls of segregation in the United States.
I speak as someone who grew up outside of this history and context, although I am black. I’ve heard some people question why black people won’t “get over” slavery and segregation because “it was so long ago.” That sentiment is a reason why films like this exist. I only truly began to understand how deep the hurt in the African American community runs when I started engaging with their stories. To see that Emmett Till’s cousins who were with him when he was taken are still alive, to think that he might still be alive today if his life wasn’t cut short, and to think of all of his family and the Black families across the country who had to caution their children a little extra to protect their lives; and that it is to these children and grandchildren people say “get over it.” That’s crazy.
Mamie went through a pain no one should ever have to experience and found purpose in it- which is so hard to do and shouldn’t be carelessly advised to people going through pain. It’s up to the rest of us now to make sure her work and pain are not in vain.
Till is available in theatres on Friday, October 21st, 2022.