Directed by: Chinonye Chukwu
Premise: Based on true events. Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) is murdered by white supremacists in 1955 Mississippi. His mother (Danielle Deadwyler) uses Emmett’s death to draw national attention to racist violence and push for civil rights legislation.
What Works: Till is primarily the story of Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett, played by Danielle Deadwyler. The movie succeeds primarily due to her performance. Deadwyler is required to be in a state of fear or grief throughout the whole film. Nearly every scene is an emotional wringer and Deadwyler keeps up the anguish throughout. However, her performance is also carefully controlled. Emmett Till’s murder became a political story and Mamie Till-Mobley had to manage her public appearance even as lies were said about her deceased son. That inner turmoil is evident throughout Deadwyler’s performance. Till is a respectful dramatization of this tragic event and the film is handsomely shot with some very effective imagery. Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu places actors in the frame and uses focus and lighting in ways that suggest power imbalances between white and black characters. The story also contextualizes Emmett Till’s murder in a way that creates an interesting parallel between this historical event and the film itself. Both Mamie Till-Mobley and the filmmakers have to walk a line, drawing attention to the injustice that led to Emmett’s murder but without exploiting it. The movie succeeds at this as it never loses sight of the loss of life.
What Doesn’t: Till is a respectable movie but in a way that keeps it unreal. This is a well-crafted film and everything about it is polished to the point of artificiality. The sets and costumes look good but everything is so clean and ordered that this world doesn’t look lived in. The revelation of Emmett Till’s remains is handled tastefully but the prop looks plastic. There’s no shock to the movie and it is well mannered to a fault. Till is also very one note. Even before Emmett’s murder the movie has an atmosphere of dread and his mother worries for him. As a result, Till plays emotionally flat and monotonous. Much like Green Book, this is another Hollywood movie that depicts racism as a problem exclusive to the American south, as though the northern parts of the country were so much more enlightened. Till features a bizarre number of Coca-Cola product placements. Coke signs are literally all over the movie and the judge even asks for one during the trial. The placements are not anachronistic but they are so prevalent as to be distracting.
Bottom Line: Till is a respectful dramatization of a tragic historical event. The movie isn’t especially challenging or enlightening but it is well acted and tells this story in a way that is palatable to mainstream audiences.
Episode: #928 (November 20, 2022)