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‘Till’ – A true crime testimonial

Published:Friday | November 4, 2022 | 12:13 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Danielle Deadwyler (right) and Jalyn Hall as the mother-son duo, Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett, in the film ‘Till’.
Danielle Deadwyler (right) and Jalyn Hall as the mother-son duo, Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett, in the film ‘Till’.

The story of Emmett Till is long overdue a cinematic treatment. The shocking and gruesome details should have been depicted on the world’s biggest screens, if only to further the mission of Mamie Till-Mobely and to bring to light the horrifying hatred that rested comfortably in the shadows. It’s a long time coming, but thankfully, the film we have is well worth the wait.

Director Chinonye Chukwu brings to the forefront one of the darkest stories in American history. With an unapologetic lens, the harshness of the period for anyone of a particular pigment is visualised, but what’s most impressive is how gracefully the film treats those same people. Institutionally black and brown people were seen and treated as less than, but each of the film’s characters is given a humanity that can’t be overstated.

For what must have felt like the weight of the world, Jalyn Hall is tasked with breathing life into Emmett Till. Bo, as he’s known to his friends and family, is as sweet a child as there ever was. He was raised with love in his heart and brought face to face with the vilest evils of the world. Hall plays the role with endearing kindness, and for the brief time he’s on screen, he all but forces you to adopt him as your own.

Of course, his mother gives the performance of the film. Danielle Deadwyler is simply sublime, capturing all manner of emotions with unprecedented skill. She starts with worry, which evolves into despair, grief, anger, and, quite impossibly, hope. Deadwyler is a force to be reckoned with, and the film knows it. Most of the film is set entirely on Mamie’s face, which is unflinching in the face of unspeakable trauma.

The story is important, but depicting the crime itself is something Chukwu wisely stays away from. The moment in question is unquestionably terrible, and it’s only the aftermath that’s shown to the viewers. Prior to that, there was an emphasis on the different American realities that persist to this day. Briefly, you get a taste of life in the shining city of Chicago, where covert prejudice is thinly veiled. Once the film ventures south, the shift is all-encompassing, with a smile and a laugh from a black child treated as open rebellion.

The movie takes itself seriously and approaches its story in earnest. When it comes to the trial, the movie avoids sensationalism and focuses on the facts. Brief mention is given to the heinous allegations made against Emmett, but once again, with wisdom, Chukwu wastes no energy giving them screen time. Till is a movie with its priorities straight and its heart in the right place. As horrific as its content may be, there’s never been a better reason for the big screen.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.