I am not sure why I have recently decided to put myself through the emotional wringer. I think it just happens during the time of year that is labelled “awards season”, forcing me to go out of my way to watch movies that I hope will be worthwhile, even as I worry about feeling drained by the time the end credits roll.
As much as I like to avoid spoilers, Till is based on a real incident that eventually, decades later, led to the creation of a law named after young Emmet Till. So I am going to specify that incident. Now. Here is your last chance to look away, if you have so far remained unaware of the case of Emmett Till.
Emmett Till was an African American boy who was abducted, tortured, and lynched for offending a Whyte woman in Mississippi. He was fourteen years old. It was sadly obvious from the outset that the jury would vote one way when the case went to court, but that didn’t stop Emmett’s mother from campaigning for change, for some good to come out of the horrendous murder of her baby boy.
Directed by Chinonye Chukwu, who is someone new to me (although I really want to see her previous feature, Clemency), this is a film that uses a factual event to underline how dangerous and unwelcoming many parts of the USA can be to black people. It may be a period piece, but seeing how slowly anything changes, and seeing parallels in the news today to show how many things have stayed the same, makes it horribly relevant. It is a potent reminder of how the imbalance in modern society has been set up over decades and centuries of prejudice and abuse.
Chukwu also worked on the script, alongside Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp (the latter having also directed a documentary on Emmett Till back in 2005), and the focus stays on the death of Emmett, and the subsequent court case. That’s a smart move, allowing viewers to see the butterfly effect of Emmett’s death, and providing a valuable opportunity to show the real courage of those who decided to speak up in the face of overwhelming odds, and risking their own lives to do so.
The cast all do their bit to elevate the material, and I will now be keeping my eyes peeled for whatever a couple of them do next. Jalynn Hall is as lovely as he needs to be in the role of young Emmett, his more childish moments all the more poignant while we await his fate. Whoopi Goldberg does good work in the role of a caring grandmother, and Frankie Faison, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tosin Cole, and John Douglas Thompson are a number of different men who play varyingly important roles in the life of Emmett and/or his mother. Haley Bennett is the woman who claims that young Emmett mistreated her, and she is duly viewed as a major villain by those who know the truth of the matter. I have omitted one notable name, and that is Danielle Deadwyler, in the role of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. Deadwyler is consistently great here, often remaining composed, determined, and mindful of the perception of onlookers while others start to have doubts about the path they are set on. There’s one display of grief here that is heart-wrenching, and it is that moment that made me determined to watch more work from Deadwyler, who gives the kind of powerful performance that should affect everyone who sees it.
Till works exactly how it is supposed to work, and I think that is at least partly tied to the fact that it presupposes viewers having knowledge of how things play out. Highly recommended, and it should be mandatory viewing for idiots who say “all lives matter”, conveniently forgetting the slavery, abuse, legal wranglings, and deaths that brought us to the here and now.
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