The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in the summer of 1955 caused a ripple of anger, fear and incredulity that swept the nation and which continues to reverberate today.
And while older African Americans have often cited the event as a teachable moment in efforts to advise their children of the dangers they might face at the hands of white racists, a new film, “Till,” delivers a fresh look for today’s youth eager to understand the unsettling details surrounding Emmett’s death and its lasting impact.
On Tuesday, Oct. 11, United Artists, in collaboration with 100 Black Men of Prince George’s County and Maryland and local college/university chapters of the NAACP, donated 122 tickets for high school and college students to see an early screening of the film.
The youth gathered at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Northwest, where they would be greeted by Julius Ware II, a member of the 100 Black Men and a standout student and senior from Howard University, Channing Hill, 21.
The movie tells the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s relentless pursuit of justice for her teenaged son who was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, decided to share the photos of her son’s mutilated body, forcing America to witness the plight of Blacks which they routinely faced at the hands of racist bigots.
Till-Mobley pushed through her grief and mobilized an entire generation of disenfranchised Black Americans to seek justice when violently wronged, with an outcome that our community has never forgotten.
The film, directed by Chinonye Chukwu and produced by co-writer Keith Beauchamp serves as a tour de force – moving viewers in an teeter-tottering of emotions.
Beauchamp said he felt he had a mission to fulfill.
“I want people to recognize that it’s not just a movie, it’s a movement. It is a movement to reconcile the history of our past. We are still fighting for justice for Emmett Till. This is only a component, a tool to make sure that happens,” Beauchamp said.
But it would be the reflections of the youth from Howard University that this writer find even more compelling.
“Seeing the film with my fellow students allowed us to witness it together in a safe space where we could laugh and cry,” said the Dallas native who recently received an NAACP Image Award for her leadership as a student activist.
“The tragedy is that young Black boys are still being lynched,” she said. “Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin are just a few of the names but the cycle continues. And still, there’s been no justice for Emmett Till and so many others. We have to stand up and demand an end to this. And we will,”
“It’s a great film and it brought to life Emmett’s humanity – the life he led before his murder and his mother’s strength as she advocated for justice for her son,” said Treeom Griffith, 21, a senior at Howard.
“It made me cry out and realize that the things I have experienced in my life haven’t begun to prepare me to how cruel the world can be,” said Ivy Rogito, 19, a sophomore from Minneapolis. “I know about the George Floyd situation because of my hometown and that has motivated me to become more of an activist. But this film showed me the power of a mother’s grief and love. I thank her for being willing to share her pain in order to change the world.”
“I remember being in high school and a teacher saying that the Emmett Till story was ancient history,” said Loren Spivery, 19, a sophomore from Cleveland, “Boy, was he wrong. And to think that the women who claimed that Emmett had raped her was lying. That lie cost him his life. And she never had to pay for it.”
“This was one of the hardest films I’ve ever seen and I was stuck in my seat,” said Kayla Santiago, 19, from New York. “I felt so connected to Mamie Till and she reminded me that when something bad happens to one Black person, it happens to all of us. We need to remember that always.”
“Right now, all I feel is pain throughout my body,” said Alexia Pitter, 25, a psychology major from Chicago. “It’s a pain that continues to be passed down from one generation to another. And this film is not about a performance – it’s about our lives. And the tragedy is how the deaths of Blacks like Emmett Till are often ignored.”
“I’m angry – angry because of the way people who look like me are so often mistreated in America,” said Khala Francois, 19, who hails from Queens, New York City. Even more, what happened to Emmett Till can and does still occur today. And I’m outraged because there were no consequences for those who committed the acts leading to the young man’s death. Even the woman, Carolyn Bryant, lied and then was allowed to go on with her life. What shocked me more was when I told some of my friends that I was going to see the movie, they didn’t even know the story behind Emmett Till’s death.”
Ayisha Anderson, who lives in Northwest, attended the film as a representative of a non-profit, Cinema Sisters – a locally-based group that hosts trips to film festivals for people of color to facilitate greater diversity at the festivals and increase votes from their cohort for Oscar contenders. She said the film was both “shocking and phenomenal in its content.”
As for one Silver Spring resident, Nigel Marshall, 55, he said the film’s power rests in how it transmitted the story of Emmett Till in ways that may be more receptive to the younger generation.
“Why tell this story now?” he asked. “Because stories can be shared in many ways. Sometimes, we tell them orally, or in books, or in music or in this case, in a movie. But the message remains relevant because what happened to Emmett Till is still happening in America.”
“I don’t believe my mother could have handled something like this if I had been Emmett Till,” he said. “Maybe, God picks mothers for certain children. What Mamie Till-Mobley endured what more than anyone should have to face. But she did it with courage and strength. The tragedy, however, that bothers me even more is how long it took America to finally pass legislation that make lynching a federal crime – 67 years after the death of that young boy.”
“As for the work of the actors and the director – they did a superb job. They were just incredible. And this film is equally incredible,” he said.