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8/19/2022 • 4 min read
It's strange that a dramatic recreation of a true story can make it seem more real to audiences. While documentaries are usually going to be the most informative windows on major historical events, dramatic movies can help audiences that didn't live through an event feel the emotional impact of a turning point in history.
The true story in TILL is so shockingly horrifying that we don't need to see a recreation to feel the impact. In 1955, 14-year old Emmett Till was kidnapped and murdered after an interaction with a White woman. After being acquitted during a trial, two men admitted their guilt. The brutal murder helped ignite the Civil Rights movement in the US and stands as a terrible example of racial violence.
The movie TILL aims to offer another emotional road into the story. By focusing on Emmett Till's mother, the movie opens a personal window on the true story.
This trailer suggests that TILL is written, directed, and performed with an appropriate severity even as it hews close to contemporary descriptions of Emmett Till's nature. And while this hints at the scope of the crimes depicted in the movie, the full ramifications of Till's murder — and the response of his family — will clearly be the focus.
A Statement From Till Director Chinonye Chukwu
Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu has released a statement which makes her approach to this story quite clear — and also explains why we won't see a brutal depiction of Emmett Till's last moments.
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.
All images courtesy of MGM and Orion Pictures.
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