If I’m being honest, films that delve into the trauma that Blacks have endured in this country have been difficult for me to deal with on more than one occasion.
Growing up a Black male in America can be emotionally taxing, overwhelming and downright injurious to mental wellness.
And, yes, “Till” could easily fall into that category. Only in rare cases has any film induced tears of anger and sorrow mixed with a palatable sense of dread.
The anger comes from a place of knowing that as much progress as this country has made in race relations, there’s still much to do for this nation to realize the best version of itself. From the looks of things, that’s not coming anytime soon.
The sorrow came from knowing what happened to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago youth who went on vacation to visit his cousins in Mississippi in the summer of 1955 only to end up lynched because of the bigotry baked into the DNA of some of its citizenry.
‘Till’ story hits home
As a movie, the story of Till (Jalyn Hill) and his mother Mamie Till-Mobley’s (Danielle Deadwyler) doesn’t allow a breather. Written by Michael Reilly, Keith Beauchamp and Chinonye Chukwu, who also directs, it is emotionally relentless.
It especially hits home for someone such as myself who visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture where Till’s casket is on display and passed on the prospect of viewing it because I knew what my reaction would be — a mixture of that anger and sorrow.
Had Chukwu leaned too far into either of those sentiments, “Till” would be far less riveting and emotionally moving than it is. She strikes a very fine balance in exploring the two to create a story that’s thoughtful, compelling and, unfortunately, still relevant for our times. The movie illustrates issues of racism that still exist in the alleged enlightened 21st century.
Why alleged? If nothing else, social media has revealed just how ugly things remain in some instances. It’s certainly not real life, but it definitely reflects it.
Shaming individuals for their bigoted behavior isn’t as difficult. Kanye West, anyone?
Till-Mobley had her voice and will along with the NAACP in an era when the fight for civil rights was still in its infancy. The script takes the opportunity to go beyond Till’s story for brief moments.
‘Till’ ties together civil rights storylines
One: a kitchen table conversation with Myrlie Evers (Jayme Lawson), widow of assassinated civil rights icon Medgar Evers (Tosin Cole in the movie), which is all the more poignant given how their experiences would intersect with violence in Mississippi.
There are a lot of familiar faces in “Till,” but the film’s effectiveness depends on two factors: Deadwyler’s performance and Chukwu’s direction. The two go hand in glove.
The impulse to indulge a melodramatic, overwrought performance would have been an easy way to manipulate the audience’s emotions. That doesn’t happen. The two understand the material they have. They understand that any reasonable audience would give themselves over to it without any sort of nudge. Therefore, Deadwyler, who has worked primarily in television, crafts a dignified, tonally perfect and memorable turn.
“Till” is less about the killing and more about the aftermath. Considering a federal anti-lynching law didn’t go into effect until this year, it and similar stories deserve to be remembered. If no one tells these stories, who’s going to know them?
George M. Thomas dabbles in movies and television for the Beacon Journal. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByGeorgeThomas
Cast: Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Whoopi Goldberg, Frankie Faison
Directed by: Chinonye Chukwu
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for thematic content involving racism, strong disturbing images and racial slurs.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Review: ‘Till’ offers emotionally powerful history lesson