“Till”: A Mother’s Burden


Will Teare

Director: Chinonye Chukwu

Starring: Danielle Deadwyler, Jayln Hall, Frankie Faison, Haylee Bennet and Whoopi Goldberg

Release Date: Oct 28, 2022

Rating: 3.5/5 

To be entirely honest, I was scared of this movie. Yes, I was afraid of the content of the film as I am well aware of Emmett Till’s story, but that wasn’t it. I was afraid on behalf of Chinonye Chukwu. Her job was to walk a line of showing us what happened to honor this moment in history and not inadvertently create, for lack of a better term, “trauma porn.” Chinonye Chukwu needs to move heaven and earth to create a respectfully told story about a mother after the lynching of her child. Chukwu needs to do all that and not exploit a tragedy. Although it gets close to a live reading of a Wikipedia page, its content, sincerity and solid lead performance by Danielle Deadwyler save the film. 

For those who haven’t had a chance to see it, the film has about 20 minutes or so before the tragedy and the rest takes place in the aftermath. We see Emmett Till(a charming and woefully naive Jayln Hall) as a normal Chicagoan kid. It’s easy to place him as an untenable victim after all these years of distance from the general public. So, the choice to show him as a young boy making his way in the world is both needed for the story and a great way to bring Emmett Till to ground level for the public eye. The film simply treats him like he was, a normal happy-go-lucky 14-year-old boy. I’m pleased to say that although brief, our time with Emmett Till is a tender and loving tribute to who he was. 

Although I’d like to attribute the movie to Chinonye Chukwu for walking the hardest line a filmmaker could, I have to give it up for Danielle Deadwyler. This movie lives and dies by everything she has to do and she delivers on all fronts. Frankly, she was a little overhyped considering I heard she may be taking away a sure-fire Oscar win from Michelle Yeoh or Cate Blanchett. But don’t get anything twisted, a very well-deserved nomination is in store. Larger than the Academy Awards, she gave a forgotten hero of American history, Mrs. Mamie Till-Mobley, a long overdue legacy that has real lasting power. Danielle Deadwyler’s performance will be how we remember Mamie Till-Mobley forever.

This movie has its faults though. “Live reading of a Wikipedia page” may be a tad harsh, but there’s a bit of truth to it. One of the pitfalls of making a biopic, especially one with the utmost importance like this, is that you can’t help but retread facts. Characters that were real people are sort of thrown at us to give it scope but it felt like a history name-drop for fun. It didn’t feel sincere. A lot of the movie seems to be stagnating in its era and not saying anything we haven’t heard before. It’s educational, but this isn’t a documentary, it’s a narrative feature. It can’t get away with that kind of storytelling. Unfortunately, it’s that Wikipedia style narrative that dramatically brings the whole movie down a few pegs. 

One of the most enthralling scenes of the entire movie is a courtroom scene about bringing the men who murdered Emmett Till to justice. We see a biased Mississippi courtroom deliberating over lies that these awful people plant on Emmett and I could not help but get enraged. I couldn’t believe anything I heard and saw. It elicited a genuine feeling to act but all I could do was watch it play out, just like Mamie did. I saw the system win right before my eyes. It showed me the injustices put upon undeserving people and that the lynching of Emmett Till wasn’t a singular event. This is all systematic. Society is just as responsible as the people who killed Emmett Till. Not only that, but when Mamie takes the stand, she gives a speech about what it is to be a mother, specifically the mother of Emmett Louis Till. It’s one of the best scenes of the year. 

But that scene raised a question, where was that movie the whole time? Where was the movie that I just saw that was so effective in both mind and heart? Honestly, I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that despite its obstacles, this movie is worth watching. Especially if you don’t know the story of Emmett or Mamie. But if one of the most moving parts of the movie was the “where are they now” text piece at the end of the film, then maybe another draft wouldn’t hurt.