Till’s Danielle Deadwyler On Finding ‘Joy’ On Set Amidst Telling Emmett Till’s Tragic Story

Sixty-seven years after Emmett Till’s brutal murder, the tragic crime -- which would be a key moment amid the Civil Rights movement -- has been chronicled in one of this year's new movie releases, Till. The production came together after a kickstarter campaign for it attracted Whoopi Goldberg's attention, and it was also impacted by the death of George Floyd in 2020. The historical drama has received a ton of praise from critics and audiences alike, Danielle Deadwyler’s performance as Till’s mother has since been singled out. It's an emotionally heavy role, but the actress was able find "joy" while making the movie.

CinemaBlend spoke to Danielle Deadwyler about her portrayal of Mamie Till-Mobley, who faced the devastating loss of her 14-year-old son Emmett Till (played by Jalyn Hall) in 1955 and became an activist after the experience. When asked how she and the rest of the cast supported one another amidst the weightiness of a project like this, Deadwyler spoke to the “levity” they found on set between the cameras rolling. In her words: 

It's imperative. There are jokes galore and largely behind the scenes for me, when Jayln's on set, in the things that we did do together, there is joy anyway, right? Because those are the times when Mamie is witnessing his beauty, witnessing him as a loving, endearing mother. And then there are times where, you know, you get to the heavy stuff or just the long stuff, the court stuff, and you're with Frankie Faison and you're with Sean [Patrick Thomas] and you're singing gospel songs. And I'm not a gospel singer, but those are the things that, you know, take you out of it for a minute and allow your body to have some breath that allow you to have joy with the community, with the cast. And, to make it a feel-good experience in conjunction with one that is transformative too.

Despite the movie telling the tragic story of the 14 year-old boy's abduction, torture and lynching and how his mother dealt with it as America watched, Danielle Deadwyler shared that it was “imperative” to have fun on set and for the cast to enjoy their time together in between takes. Additionally, the movie itself features a few warmer scenes that beautifully pay tribute to Till’s memory. In doing so, they give audiences a sense of who he was as a person and display the love and good times that he and Mamie shared.

Jayln Hall also shared his own experience working on Till during our interview. He said this: 

Luckily, the joy was there in most of our scenes… it was a lot of fun.

While Till’s subject matter is not necessarily the recipe for a fun time, it sounds like the cast and crew were really able to balance telling an important and challenging with forging kinship with one another. The movie was helmed by Clemency’s Chinonye Chukwu, who told CinemaBlend that she was particularly “empowered” by producer Whoopi Goldberg to pursue her vision for the movie. The story is told from the perspective of Mamie and opts not to dwell solely on the more traumatic aspects of the ordeal.

The impactful Whoopi Goldberg plays Mamie’s mother in the film and, sadly, her role resulted in some discourse after a film critic incorrectly claimed she wore a fat suit to play the part. Goldberg spoke out about the erroneous comment, explaining that her appearance was health-related. Following the incident, Goldberg reflected on being body shamed in the role, saying she felt it was “important” to explain that her review was incorrect. 

That matter aside, there's been a massive flow of positivity surrounding Till. It's wonderful that Hollywood is shedding light on this story, and that Danielle Deadwyler and her co-stars were also able to form bonds while doing so. The film is now playing in theaters, so there's still time to check it out. Also, be sure to stay up to date on other fall movies that are being released this year.

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.