By: Amanda Guarragi
American history has always been filled with such darkness and racial injustice that somehow still hasn’t been able to disappear. Films that explore the history of Black America, and the vast difference in the style of living, will always be difficult to watch. It’s hard to even fathom the extent of white power and how it’s still prevalent today. The decades have changed shape, and people have evolved in a minor way, but the face of white supremacy has become even more distinct. This is why biopics surrounding important social issues such as racial discrimination in America will always be important. Why should education on such issues leave the media entirely if the situation hasn’t changed? Till which is co-written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu and written by Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp highlights a different perspective that we haven’t quite seen before. In 1955, after Emmett Till is murdered in a brutal lynching, his mother Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler) vows to expose the racism behind the attack while working to have those involved brought to justice.
From the very beginning of this film, the perspective is through the eyes of Mamie Till-Mobley, which sets this apart from many other films tackling similar stories. Danielle Deadwyler gives a heartwrenching performance that will have you completely invested in fighting for her son. She is the beating heart and soul of this movie. Without her, it just wouldn’t have been the same. This film is very much character-driven and shows the lengths that a mother will go to for her son. At first, we see the wonderful life Mamie has built for Emmett in Chicago. She had a full-time job, lived in a big home, and had her family around her the majority of the time. Mamie had raised Emmett with kindness and love, which serviced him until it didn’t. Jalyn Hall was wonderful as Emmett Till and brought such playfulness to him. His connection with his mother was beautiful to see at the beginning, and since it was established so early on, that tether is what keeps the tie to him throughout the film. Mamie had warned Emmett about Mississippi, and how Black people were treated differently down there. But he was a kid and blinded by his life in Chicago. The way he was raised says a lot about the difference in cities in the 50s, and it’s heartbreaking.
The direction by Chukwu is by far the most important aspect of this film because of what she chose to present to audiences. Her tender and careful direction of Emmett Till’s death was impactful because of what she concealed. Those moments when the camera stayed on Deadwyler to capture her emotions instead of showing the brutality that her son faced were important. There was a level of respect that came with the cinematography by Bobby Bukowski as well. It was a retelling through a mother’s eyes, and Mamie was devoted to her son in trying to expose the brutality of his death. Many powerful moments throughout Till will have you locked in on Deadwyler for giving such an emotionally nuanced performance that will have you in tears. Even though it is a heavy film, it is so unique in perspective and is another layer in understanding the lives of Black mothers in America. Two scenes, in particular, will never leave your mind, and Chukwu intended for them to make a lasting impact as they did in 1955. The sequence of Emmett’s body on the table with Mamie confirming that it’s her son is directly tied into the incredible monologue she gives in court. The visuals of his body and her describing what she saw through a mother’s eyes were incredibly powerful.
Till is a well-written story about a mother who has lost her only son due to racial injustice in America. Danielle Deadwyler gives the performance of the year as Mamie Till-Mobley. To understand this through a mother’s perspective is completely different and has rarely been explored in this way before. It is the most respectful way to honour Mamie and Emmett because they did not show the extent of the violence that he faced. Every single emotion that Mamie expresses will reach you and make you feel for her. Even though tears may start flowing, the anger is under-lining. Especially the way the American media acted toward Mamie and Emmett Till, added even more fuel throughout the film. Chinonye Chukwu truly did capture the most important aspects of this story. She chose to execute certain moments in a way that would properly show the extent of the unwarranted violence in the Deep South. It is a difficult but necessary watch. And Deadwyler did an extraordinary job by grounding Mamie’s story with such an earnest approach.