MGM and Orion have released the official trailer for Till, a new feature film that centers on the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi in 1955, and his mother's quest for justice. Till was killed after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store, and was eventually killed by at least two people, who were acquitted by an all-white jury before admitting publicly to the crime in later interviews. Protected by double jeopardy laws, the duo were never properly punished. In 2022, an unserved warrant for kidnapping -- one that also named the woman he allegedly offended -- was discovered, renewing calls by Till's family and other civil rights advocates to act on it. While the men have both since died, Carolyn Bryant Donham is still alive.
In 2004, Donham told FBI investigators that Till had not spoken to her when her then-husband brought him to her prior to his death. It now appears that she is aiming to rewrite her story. While she has done so a few times over the years, this time it's literal: she has a 99-page, unpublished memoir, the existence of which conflicts with her 2004 testimony and claims Till admitted to violating laws that governed how Black men could speak to White women at the time. It seems to be part of a larger effort to cast herself in a more sympathetic light, with the title I Am More Than a Wolf Whistle and claims that she was essentially blameless in the kidnapping and lynching of Till. Originally intended to be held for release until 2036, a draft of Donham's memoir was leaked by historian Timothy Tyson. Tyson had agreed to the 2036 release date initially, but when the unserved warrant was discovered and calls for a new investigation emerged, Tyson said that he believed it was in the public good that such a document be available to law enforcement.
You can see the trailer below.
Till's death was a flashpoint for the civil rights movement, with the murder of a child serving as a stark reminder of just how unsafe the American south was for people of color. His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, was the tip of the spear, trying for years to get justice. She famously insisted that her son's public funeral had to be an open-casket event, forcing attendees and the media to confront the brutality that the teen was subjected to before his death.
Till's death would make him one of the first martyrs of the modern civil rights movement, but its brutality (his body was dumped in a river, tied to a cotton gin fan, and when recovered was bloated and disfigured beyond recognition) and the young age of the victim have kept it fresh in the culture's collective memory. The profound sense of injustice that his killers were allowed to walk free enraged many Americans, and even among those who defended the killers, support all but evaporated once the men confessed that they really were guilty of the crime.
Conventional wisdom is that the egregious nature of Till's murder would have resulted in a conviction almost anywhere else in the country. Unserved warrants related to the case also suggest that Mississippi wasn't taking the case seriously. Earlier this summer, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime. Such a law would have taken investigative jurisdiction away from Mississippi.
Till is set to be directed by Chinonye Chukwu, from a screenplay by Chukwu, Michael Reilly, and Keith Beauchamp. The film stars Danielle Deadwyler, Whoopi Goldberg, Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison, Jayme Lawson, Tosin Cole, Kevin Carroll, Sean Patrick Thomas, John Douglas Thompson, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Haley Bennett.
Till will be in theaters this October.0comments