It took over 100 years and 200 failed legislative attempts, but in March, with President Biden’s signing of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, lynching finally became a federal hate crime. That historic moment was a step toward accountability and justice for the innocent 14-year-old boy killed on August 28, 1955, in Money, Mississippi — and whose death many say sparked the Civil Right Movement.
Emmett Till was visiting family when he was kidnapped and brutally beaten by a group of white supremacists. Rather than allowing her son’s death to go unpunished, Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, dedicated her life to fighting for justice for her only child and other victims of racial injustice and violence. “Till,” the movie, in theaters on October 28, is an ode to Mamie and the civil rights progress her work brought to Black communities around the country.
“It’s more than a movie for us, it’s a movement. It’s a movement toward accountability, truth, and justice for Emmett Till because we are still fighting for justice after 67 years,” said Deborah Watts, Emmett’s cousin and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, during the Till National Town Hall, hosted by Values Partnerships to teach attendees about the significance of the “Till” film.
Watts explained that movies like this — which speak to the reality of the Black experience throughout United States history — are needed today because our communities Emmett’s to be impacted by racism and inequality, just as they were at the time of Emmett’s death.
Data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism shows a nearly 30 percent increase in hate crimes in 2021, with Black Americans among those most targeted. Indeed, with the lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, it’s clear we have work to do.
“This movie is a moment that Mamie has always wanted since Emmett’s murder and her progression into being the activist that she is,” Watts said. “She wanted the world to know what happened to her son. She did not want it to happen to any other young person.”
Danielle Deadwyler, the actor portraying Mamie in “Till,” also spoke during the town hall about why it’s important for people from all backgrounds to watch, share, and uplift this film. With book bans sweeping America and disproportionately affecting marginalized voices, and the teaching of America’s true history being banned from many K-12 schools across the United States, Deadwyler said watching “Till” and honoring Emmett and Mamie’s stories are acts of resistance.
“We are in a place where we know there are political figures who don’t “want us to have this information, who are lying about the truth of our experiences,” Deadwyler said. “If we see this film, we rebel, we counter that lack of knowledge and that ignorance, and we are able to share abundantly with our community and with other communities so that we are utterly resistant to any kind of neglectful speaking on our history, our Black American history, our American history. This is an opportunity to resist.”
“Till” is also significant for its support of Black artists and creators. The film boasts a strong, majority Black cast and stellar work from Nigerian-American director Chinonye Chukwu. And, the actors said “Till” stays true to the facts when portraying the legacies of Emmett and Mamie.
Deadwyler shared that to ensure she was accurately portraying Mamie, she went to the source — Mamie’s memoir.
“What really began to do the digging for me was reading Mamie’s memoir,” Deadwyler said. “That’s the Bible. That’s where you should go if you’re doing this kind of work that centers on the truth of an experience. She lays it out all there in ‘Death of Innocence’ that she co-wrote with Chris Benson. It just gave me the knowledge and information that I needed. She laid out the true intimacy of what it meant to rear him, to love him, to birth him.”
Even for folks who may be familiar with the events of Emmett’s death, Deadwyler said that “Till” illuminates an intimacy to this critical time that you cannot learn anywhere else — and this film is for anyone who wishes to carry on Emmett’s name and Mamie’s legacy of service to the Black community.
“That’s the legacy that she wanted to leave,” Deadwyler said. “She didn’t want people to forget Emmett. She didn’t want to be the only one who was carrying Emmett’s name. If you see the love between them, if you see the singing, and the joy, and the dancing, and the simple need to just rear him — all of that beauty is what we are fighting for, the ability to just be.”
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