(2022) (Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A black mother must contend with the murder of her 14-year-old son at the hands of white racists.
It's 1955 and single mom Mamie Bradley (DANIELLE DEADWYLER) is concerned about sending her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till (JALYN HALL), to the town of Money, Mississippi to visit his cousins and their parents. While they must contend with some racism in Chicago, Mamie knows all too well how her outgoing black son might be viewed in the deep South and warns him accordingly.
Nonetheless, while with his relatives in a small market in Money, Emmett compliments the white shopkeeper, Carolyn Bryant (HALEY BENNETT), that she looks like a movie star and whistles at her while leaving the store. As she goes for her gun, everyone flees, dragging Emmett along with them. Days later, they think the matter might be behind them, but then two white men show up at the home of Emmett's uncle, Moses Wright (JOHN DOUGLAS THOMPSON), and kidnap the boy.
A few days later, Mamie learns that Emmett's mutilated body has been found, devastating her, her boyfriend, Gene (SEAN PATRICK THOMAS), and Mamie's divorced parents, Alma (WHOOPIE GOLDBERG) and John (FRANKIE FAISON). While having to contend with that, her second cousin, union rep Rayfield Mooty (KEVIN CARROLL), offers to help get the NAACP involved, particularly in having the boy's body returned to Chicago. With that drawing national attention, Rayfield and civil rights activist Medgar Evers (TOSIN COLE), try to use that to spur change in laws aimed at protecting black Americans, all while Mamie heads to Mississippi for the ensuing murder trial.
- OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
From the end of the Civil War and up through the 1960s, conservative estimates list the number of black people lynched in America at around 5,000, although the number is likely far higher as many were probably not reported for fear of mob reprisal. It's a despicable part of American history (like slavery before it), mostly committed in the South by white racists who wanted to keep freed slaves and their descendants in their place.
What's nearly as shocking is that it took until March 29, 2022 for anti-lynching legislation to pass in Congress. Yes, a mere sixty-seven years after the lynching death of the bill's namesake, Emmett Till. He was a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago who was visiting his relatives in Mississippi ("home" of the most lynchings in the country) when he made what turned out to be the fatal mistake of whistling at an attractive white woman.
Days later, some white men tracked him down, kidnapped him, and then tortured and murdered the young teen, leaving Mamie, his single mother back in Chicago, shellshocked but then determined to show the world what happened to her boy. The open casket viewing of his mutilated and swollen body made national news and helped further along the efforts to turn the Civil Rights Act into reality (although that would take nearly another decade to come to fruition).
Their tale now arrives in the form of "Till," a well-made but disturbing and emotionally draining drama featuring a star-making turn by Danielle Deadwyler as the distraught but determined mom. As directed by Chinonye Chukwu from a script she co-wrote with Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp, the film begins in better but still worrisome times as Mamie tries to prepare Emmett (Jalyn Hall) for his trip down south, including all the requisite warnings about staying in his lane and not making any waves.
But headstrong boys will be, well, headstrong boys, and the charismatic Emmett thinks nothing of complementing a young white shopkeeper (Haley Bennett) that she looks like a movie star. She's shocked that he's talking to her like that and when he departs with a so-called wolf whistle farewell, she storms out to get her gun from her car, with news of the "indiscretion" eventually making it to Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam (barely personified in the film, for better or worse). They end up taking the boy in the middle of the night and things only get worse from there.
Back home, Mamie -- who was already beside herself with worry about something exactly like this happening -- receives consolation from her boyfriend (Sean Patrick Thomas) and divorced parents (Whoopi Goldberg and Frankie Faison). She also gets some of that from her second cousin (Kevin Carroll) who has connections with the NAACP and the wheels are set in motion to try to get the boy back home.
But that's too little and too late as he's found dead not long after that, and what follows is an examination of grief, undying motherly love (the scene where she views her son's body for the first time is devastating), and then a steadfast determination not to allow his death to disappear into the void of racial hatred and violence. There's the obligatory eventual courtroom thrust of the storyline, but even if one's not familiar with the true-life story, there's no doubt where things are ultimately headed in a "game" stacked against the underdogs.
Even so, the film is emotionally engaging as we watch Deadwyler masterfully go through several transformations in the film, from worrying parent to grieving mother to determined civil rights advocate. Her performance is undeniably the fuel that propels this 130-some-minute offering, and if an Oscar nomination doesn't arrive, that will be a travesty (at least in the world of movies). Supporting performances are strong across the board, and the storytelling by those behind the camera is engaging without falling into the trap of being too depressing, manipulative, or melodramatic.
It's not an easy watch, but it's certainly a movie that deserves to be seen, if only to remind viewers of America's problem with racism. "Till" rates as a 7 out of 10.
Posted October 28, 2022
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