Within a state with as fractured a racial history as Mississippi, the 1955 murder of Emmett Till remains one of its most tragic stories, capitalized by the judiciary injustice that followed.
It was only a matter of time before this story received the major motion picture treatment.
At the very least, this Hollywood production — partially shot in Greenwood, Miss. — raises the level of awareness surrounding the overall tragedy, which is an achievement in its own right.
But “Till” seeks to go deeper, respectfully honoring the legacy of the 14-year-old African-American boy cruelly killed in the Mississippi Delta after being accused of offending a white woman, as well as sharpening the impact of this critical story’s ripples throughout history.
Following her son’s murder, Mamie Till (later Mamie Till Mobley), played by Danielle Deadwyler, seeks to right the wrongs of this injustice, picking up the pieces of a legacy that becomes continuously belittled by the offending race.
This historical friction is where “Till” most successfully operates, with its heroine’s internal tug-of-war between an emotional and logical approach within a system that will not take either viewpoint seriously.
“He is in just the right shape,” Mamie Till says in response to criticism of allowing photographs of her son’s deformed body to be published. “The world is going to see what they did to my boy.”
Deadwyler is fantastic throughout, displaying a necessary conviction and anger seldom seen in Hollywood protagonists. The highlight of the film, a one-take scene of Mamie being cross-examined in the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, allows these conflicting emotions to play out in real time, drawing the viewer further inward.
Deadwyler, who is surely to land an Oscar nomination, is bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including Sean Patrick Thomas, Whoopi Goldberg (who also served as a producer on the film) and Jalyn Hill as the lovable Emmett Till.
Director Chinonye Chukwu directs the picture with grace, allowing early intimate moments between mother and son to play out with a candid verve and tenderness, deftly transforming a story of racial impunity into one of familial devastation.
This devastation is heightened by the film’s fortunate avoidance of the typically bland period-piece color palette, with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski opting for a more Rockwellian atmosphere — one that eventually becomes uprooted, without ever feeling exploitative.
The movie’s heightened swells of melodrama may not coalesce as smoothly with the lived-in realism found in its shining moments, yet “Till” remains a movie that is very much worth seeing and worth championing.
Despite the story taking place nearly 70 years ago, the film, along with a series of powerful ending title cards, remind viewers of its immediate as well as its timeless impact.
“Till” is playing in theaters nationwide.