By: Russ Matthews
Within any movement, some names and events define that portion of history.
Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) was a 14-year-old boy visiting family in Mississippi, and not one who people would think would become the face of the civil rights movement, but he did. His death at the hands of a lynch mob symbolised an era, and his mother, Mamie Till-Bradley (Danielle Deadwyler), made sure his voice was heard.
The film adaptation of Emmett Till’s story has been in consideration for years and has been brought to theatres by director Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency). In August of 1955, the teenager living in Chicago with his mother and grandmother anticipated his upcoming trip to the South. Even though he would be with family, his mother warned him to be careful around white people in that area of the world. In his enthusiasm to travel, the warnings were acknowledged instead of being heard, and trouble found him upon his arrival.
One day, the boys were buying candy at Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, and Emmett naively speaks disrespectfully to the owner’s wife. This innocent action led to a series of events ending with the young man being killed and floating in the Tallahatchie River. His death lit a fire under the civil rights movement. Eventually, it caused the authorities to arrest two of the men involved. In her grief, Mamie had to determine how involved she would become in the trial and the movement as she mourned the loss of her only son.
This film feels like it could be ripped from current headlines as the world looks to rectify the evils of racism worldwide. Yet, it opens the wounds of the past with the true-to-life story of Mamie Till-Bradley’s journey from being a grieving mother to transforming into a sounding board for racial equality. A tale that is unfortunately too familiar in the depiction of the 1950’s in the deep South of the US, there is one performance that makes this worth engaging with in cinemas. Danielle Deadwyler carries this film from the opening credits to the confronting conclusion. Her depiction of Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, takes this production from a standard cautionary history lesson to a career-defining role.
Till will touch parents’ souls everywhere while providing a historical perspective on one of the darker sides of humanity. This story is worth discovering because it is wrapped around a compelling central character that will resonate through time.
REEL DIALOGUE: Can Something Good Come Out of Tragedy?
Emmett Till’s tale shows beauty can be found in injustice and suffering. A rough and raw depiction of the lives of those who travelled through a complex and transitional era in the United States. Interestingly, some elements could be said of the heart of the good news story of Jesus’ life and death.
His story is one of tragic beginnings and a horrific end. Still, throughout his short time on earth this tale of potential woe does contain a certain beauty and offers hope to the world. His death symbolises everlasting joy for many, and his life continues to provide an overwhelming expectation of what is to be.
If you see your life as having little hope or joy, it may be a good time to check out the story of Jesus. He offers people hope in a forever that goes beyond their wildest dreams.
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.
All images: Movie stills
About the author: Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.