Till review – sensitive Emmett Till drama aims to educate and honor - The Guardian

Till review – sensitive Emmett Till drama aims to educate and honor - The Guardian

Oct 02, 2022 1 min, 29 secs

Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) sits in the front seat of a car with his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler).

What does this reliving of Emmett Till’s brutal murder and Mamie’s subsequent activism accomplish?

It probably never could, given the weight of Till’s lynching in the American public imagination, the visceral horror of his death, or the continued use of his story as a history lesson for white people.

The 2-hour, 10-minute film occasionally tips its hand as an educational film for white audiences – a name-drop appearance by Medgar Evers (Tosin Cole), who tells Mamie, “just call me Medgar”; pre-credit slides explaining Evers’s assassination and legacy and the passage of the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act in 2022.

Till is arguably the best-case scenario of a dubious choice, which is to turn the story of Mamie Till into, essentially, a biopic – one woman’s tragic metamorphosis into an activist, a celebrity of grief and of America’s racial hatred.

As such, Till hits expected notes: ponderous music, scenes depicting the encroachment of fame, a final triumphant moment of transformation; a couple of scenes each to texture her relationships with mother Alma (Whoopi Goldberg) and steadfast partner Gene (Sean Patrick Thomas), both of whom get little characterization beyond support of Mamie.

There’s the moment on the train from Chicago to Mississippi when Black passengers move to the back of the train, the wide shot of fields dotted with white cotton and Black sharecroppers.

It swerves into thornier territory where the ethics aren’t as stark – the pressure placed on Mamie to show her grief publicly by NAACP members who rightly identified a rare window for attention, or the gut-wrenching confrontation between Mamie and the uncle who chose protecting his family over fighting the men who took Emmett.

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