Till Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Stars: Danielle Deadwyler, Haley Bennett, Whoopi Goldberg, Frankie Faison, Jalyn Hall, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tosin Cole, John Douglas Thompson
Based on a true story, Till is a film full of pain, grief, anger, and it is a powerful howl of outrage against a blatant miscarriage of justice that has never been rectified.
In 1955 14-year-old Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall, from tv series All American, etc) was holidaying with his cousins in Mississippi. A native of Chicago Emmett was an outgoing, high spirited, confident and irrepressibly cheeky youngster who was unaware of the way in which whites treated African-Americans in America’s deep south, despite the warnings of his overprotective and worried mother Mamie (Danielle Deadwyler, from The Harder They Fall, etc). After an innocent interaction with Mrs Bryant (Haley Bennett, recently seen in Cyrano, etc), who ran the local store in the small town of Money, Emmett was dragged from his uncle’s house at gunpoint in the middle of the night, beaten and eventually brutally murdered. His body was eventually found in the Tallahatchie River, bloated, disfigured. Mamie insisted on his corpse being displayed in an open coffin to highlight the brutality of what had happened to Emmett. The media coverage of his funeral ensured that the two men responsible for the crime were arrested and put on trial.
But in Mississippi it would be almost impossible for a white woman to find justice from a legal system permeated by segregation and systemic racism. The local sheriff branded the media coverage as a conspiracy by the NAACP to garner unjustified sympathy for Mamie and her family, while the prosecution tried to attack her character. While on the stand Mrs Bryant blatantly lied about what happened in her store during the brief encounter with Emmett, and the all-white male jury failed to convict the two accused killers.
Before the end credits play out a brief statement details the consequences and the fallout from the trial, and it points out the lack of punishment and accountability for the men – who eventually confessed their guilt to Look magazine for a considerable monetary payout. And it was not until nearly sixty-seven years after these events that the Emmett Till anti-lynching law was passed by the US congress. Following the outcome of the trial Mamie became an outspoken advocate for justice and this was the start of the Civil Rights movement in America.
This powerful film comes from Nigerian filmmaker Chinonye Chujwu (the 2018 short film A Long Walk, etc) and it is designed to evoke a strong reaction from audiences. The script from Chujwu and her co-writers Michael Reilly (his first feature script) and Keith Beauchamp (who produced the 2005 documentary The Untold Story Of Emmett Louis Till, etc, and who has spent the better part of a couple of decades researching the story) sticks fairly closely to the known facts of the story. The dramatic courtroom sequences are redolent with the racism and hostility of America’s deep south and show that in the decades since the events depicted here little seems to have changed.
The film’s focus is the powerful, emotionally resonant performance of Deadwyler which is full of pain and restrained anger, and she totally inhabits the character and captures both her grief and strength of purpose. It is surprising that she was not nominated for an Oscar for her superb work here. Hall is good and brings a youthful energy to his role as Emmett. Frankie Faison and Whoopi Goldberg offer solid support as Mamie’s parents, and Sean Patrick Thomas is sympathetic as Mamie’s supportive partner Gene Mobley.
The period detail from Curt Beech reeks of authenticity and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (Land, etc) captures some stunning imagery of the setting, contrasting the natural beauty of the area with the palpable undercurrents of ugly racial hatred and violence. Bukowski also focuses on Deadwyler’s face in close-up shots that allow us to experience her range of emotions. However, the overly melodramatic score from Abel Korzenioski is a little too manipulative.
Till is powerful stuff but it is, at times, not an easy film to watch.