Some of “Till” is hard to watch, but that’s not surprising.
Bigotry is always horrific.
“Till,” a recent MGM Studios release, doesn’t flinch in its honest look at the prejudice that cost 14-year-old Emmett Till his life during a visit to his relatives in Mississippi. The cheerful, enthusiastic black boy grew up in Chicago, where the prejudice against blacks was less prevalent or overt than the bigotry in the South.
His mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, warns him about the South, but he can’t resist when he sees Carolyn Bryant, a pretty white clerk, at a convenience store and compliments her on her beauty, comparing her to a movie star. She’s offended by the compliment, and when he continues to show her attention, she approaches him with a shotgun.
Emmett and his cousins get out of there fast in their truck, and Emmett thinks that’s the end of the problem. Emmet persuades his cousins not to tell their parents because he doesn’t want to be sent back early to Chicago.
Unfortunately, Emmett doesn’t realize the danger he’s in. Thugs come in the middle of the night, kidnap him and, in retaliation for the attention he showed Carolyn, they torture him to death.
That’s how Emmett died in the evening on Aug. 28, 1955, but his story doesn’t end there. Mamie does her best to see that the two white men who killed her son are indicted and, possibly, convicted. And she raises awareness about the tragedy.
“Till” succeeds for a host of reasons, beginning with director Chinoye Chukwu’s mastery in making each scene compelling. Another major reason is star Danielle Deadwyler’s passionate portrayal of Mamie. Viewers see her fierce determination to win justice for Emmett and to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.
The film begins with Jalyn Hall’s great portrayal of Emmett, showing viewers he was a good kid with a sense of humor. Mr. Hall’s time on screen isn’t long, but he makes a lasting impression.
Likewise, Whoopi Goldberg is effective in her portrayal of Alam Carthan, and Sean Patrick Thomas adds some good energy to “Till” with his portrayal of Gene Mobley, Mamie’s future husband.
Haley Bennett, whose viewers may remember from the NBC series “Heroes,” does a good job of playing Carolyn and showing that bigotry comes in all forms.
And the story tells about Emmett Till and his mother in a straightforward narrative. Ms. Chukwu, who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Reilly and producer Keith Beauchamp, resists any temptation to overdo flashbacks or try anything artsy. The director trusts the story.
Ms. Chukwu and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski rely on basic techniques such as tight close-ups on Mamie, and Ms. Deadwyler makes her acting especially compelling in those moments. Much of acting is as much about the eyes as the voice, and Ms. Deadwyler’s facial expressions complement the story with emotional power.
“Till” is a movie adults and teenagers should see, but there are some gruesome scenes that children should be spared. The News-Press watched as one pair of adults understandably took their children out of the theater during a recent showing.
One thing’s for certain. The civil rights movement and its various stories should be remembered, so these tragedies are never repeated. No one should suffer what Emmett experienced.