How Whoopi Goldberg Empowered Till’s Director During The Making Of The Movie

Among this year’s many new fall movie releases is a depiction of a tragic and brutal event in American history that became a key event within the American civil rights movement. Chinonye Chukwu’s Till sheds light on the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was abducted, tortured and lynched while visiting Mississippi. The young man has never been forgotten, especially since his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley ultimately dedicated her life to finding justice for her son. The movie was greatly championed by Whoopi Goldberg, who not only stars in the film as Emmett’s grandmother but also served as a producer. And in that latter role, she helped encourage Chukwu.

Till is Chinonye Chukwu’s second directorial effort following her critically acclaimed debut, 2019’s Clemency, which was inspired by a real death row case. Her movie about Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley was the result of years of money-raising via a kickstarter. While Whoopi Goldberg initially signed on to make Till her directorial debut, the historical drama was ultimately placed in Chukwu's hands. She spoke to CinemaBlend about her collaboration with Goldberg with these words: 

Whoopi was just so supportive of my artistic point of view for this film, because she really believed in my artistry in such an unconditional way that was really heartening for me as an artist and as a Black woman. And she's one of my sheroes, so to get that co-sign and support was incredible. And as an actress, I mean, she's fabulous, she's Whoopi Goldberg. It was great working with her, she was so humble and so open and so receptive to any kind of direction, and she's hilarious in between takes. She's absolutely hilarious. She was critical in the making of this film, and I'm just really grateful to have worked with her.

The movie tells the story from the perspective of Mamie Till-Mobley, as she wrestles with the nightmare of losing her son to senseless violence while visiting family outside of their home in Chicago. Till gives an in-depth account of the events surrounding Emmett Till’s death and does so by deftly focusing on the human element of it all and not leaning too heavily on the more traumatic aspects in any harmful ways. During our interview with the director, Chinonye Chukwu also spoke about the vision her vision for the movie, which had Whoopi Goldberg's support: 

The film is about Mamie and her journey, and it is also about the love and humanity that existed within her and in her relationship with Emmett and all the other people who were a part of her community and her ecosystem. And, I take great care in honoring that in a way that doesn't center the physical violence that was inflicted upon Emmett. I take great care in making a film that inspires a level of hope and possibility and self-empowerment.

Upon its premiere at the New York Film Festival earlier this month, Till received rave reviews from critics and general audiences alike. Whoopi Goldberg seems particularly pleased with how the movie turned out. (Though unfortunately, she did speak out after a critic claimed she wore a fat suit for the movie when she was actually ill amid filming and was on steroids.) While Goldberg plays a small part in the movie, she was definitely instrumental in getting the movie made. And thanks to her efforts, there's now an opportunity to bring more attention to this tragic incident.

While it’s a bit too early to make 2023 Oscar predictions, it’s likely that Danielle Deadwyler’s emotional and powerful performance as Mamie Till-Mobley will insert her into the conversations for Best Actress, and Chinonye Chukwu’s careful direction should not go unnoticed either. 

Whoopi balances a lot of projects these days, between being a regular host of The View, working to get Sister Act 3 together and even launching her own prosecco line. However, when it comes to Till, Goldberg brought her talents to a major motion picture by effectively empowering its director to craft a vision that will allow the memory of Emmett Till and his mother to remain within the public consciousness and help to guide us as we contend with the systematic racism that's sadly still present within our society today.

Be sure to check out Till, which is playing in theaters now. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.