Chinonye Chukwu’s Till tells the true story of Mamie Till Mobley’s relentless pursuit of justice for her 14-year old son, Emmett Till, who, in 1955, was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi, where he spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the white, married proprietor of a small grocery store there.
Till was accused of flirting with or whistling at Bryant, unwittingly, violated the unwritten code of behavior for a black male interacting with a white female in the Jim Crow-era South. Several nights after the incident in the store, Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother J.W. Milam, who were armed, went to Till’s great-uncle’s house and abducted Emmett. They took him away and beat and mutilated him before shooting him in the head and sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River. Three days later, Till’s mutilated and bloated body was discovered and retrieved from the river.
In September 1955, an all-white jury found Bryant and Milam not guilty of Till’s murder. Protected against double jeopardy, the two men publicly admitted in a 1956 interview with Look magazine that they had tortured and murdered the boy, selling the story of how they did it for $4,000. Till’s murder was seen as a catalyst for the next phase of the civil rights movement. In her unpublished 2022 memoir, Bryant declined to retract her disputed account of the events leading to Till’s murder. but she pleaded with her husband and his brother not to hurt Till. In Mamie’s poignant journey of grief turned to action, we see the universal power of a mother’s ability to change the world.
Director Chinonye Chukwu’s note on the film:
When I was approached to write and direct a story about Emmett Till, I found myself drawn to a singular figure at the center of his orbit. I saw an opportunity to subvert expectations and approach the narrative through another lens – from the maternal point of view of Mamie Till Mobley. Had it not been for Mamie, her son’s memory would have evaporated into thin air. She was the catalyst for a modern day civil rights movement that has laid a formidable framework for future activists and Freedom Fighters. I felt compelled to champion Mamie’s legacy and center her in the spotlight where she rightfully belongs.
Mamie’s untold story is one of resilience and courage in the face of adversity and unspeakable devastation. For me, the opportunity to focus the film on Mamie, a multi-faceted Black woman, and peel back the layers on this particular chapter in her life, was a tall order I accepted with deep respect and responsibility. On the daily, Mamie combatted racism, sexism, and misogyny, which was exponentially heightened in the wake of Emmett’s murder. Mamie did not cower. Instead, she evolved into a warrior for justice who helped me to understand and shape my own similar journey in activism. And as a filmmaker, showing Mamie in all her complex humanity was of utmost importance.
The crux of this story is not about the traumatic, physical violence inflicted upon Emmett – which is why I refused to depict such brutality in the film – but it is about Mamie’s remarkable journey in the aftermath. She is grounded by the love for her child, for at its core, TILL is a love story. Amidst the inherent pain and heartbreak, it was critical for me to ground their affection throughout the film. The cinematic language and tone of TILL was deeply rooted in the balance between loss in the absence of love; the inconsolable grief in the absence of joy; and the embrace of Black life alongside the heart wrenching loss of a child.
I hope viewers will empathize with the humanities on screen and see our present cultural and political realities within this film. And I hope that Mamie’s story helps us all to realize the power within ourselves to continue to fight for the change we want to see in the world, just as she did.
Till is directed by Chinonye Chukwu and written by Michael Reilly & Keith Beauchamp and Chinonye Chukwu. It stars Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till Mobley and Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till, with Frankie Faison, Haley Bennett, and Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg.
United Artists and Orion will release Till in select theaters on October 14 and everywhere October 28.
Photo: Lynsey Weatherspoon / Orion Pictures