Till Review: The Story Of Emmett Till Through His Mother’s Eyes Gets A Worthy Memorial

A Civil Rights icon’s story is finally told on film.

Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till Mobley in 2022 movie Till
(Image: © Orion Pictures)

In August 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was abducted during a trip to Mississippi, and he was subsequently tortured, lynched, and shot, his body was sunk in the Tallahatchie River. It’s a devastating part the American Civil Rights Movement and the country's history, and a story that remains relevant today – with the Emmett Till Antilynching Act going into American law just months ago on March 29, 2022, signed into law by President Joe Biden. Chinonye Chukwu’s biographical take on the event, Till, brings heart, soul and gracious recognition to an event that people can't read over and grow numb to. 

The entry point into Till is through the story of Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler), who famously insisted on an open casket funeral for her son following his brutal murder and soon after found a role as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Till is uninterested in being the kind of trauma exploitation that would deter many into checking out a movie like this. Sure, you can’t get away from the heartbreaking horror of the heinous crime that spurs the narrative, but one walks away from the film with a better understanding what took place, and it stands as a worthy memorial.

Director Chinonye Chukwu’s approach to Till is both delicate and deliberately told. 

Till’s ability to effectively tell this story is much in part thanks to the script written by Keith Beauchamp, who did nearly 30 years of research on the murder, which even led to the reopening of Emmett Till’s case by the United States Department of Justice back in 2004. Beauchamp also spent time with the Till family and spearheaded a seven-year Kickstarter campaign to tell this story in a feature film – which quickly got the attention of Whoopi Goldberg, who came on board as a producer and also plays Mamie’s mother, Alma Carthan.

Chinonye Chukwu, who previously examined death row with 2019’s Clemency, begins and ends Till with music and joy between a mother and son. She remains focused on the perspective of Mamie, whose commonplace worries of being away from her child for a few days at the start of the film spirals into a nightmare. Mamie quickly not only becomes the subject of a personal tragedy, but a viral news event when the NAACP becomes involved in an effort to bring attention to the prevalence of racism in America. Throughout Till, the audience navigates the devastation of the event into the Mississippi trial, and what the movie thankfully doesn’t do is recreate the horrible violence Emmett Till endured or bask too long in the grisly nature of the monstrous crime. 

Danielle Deadwyler’s performance is among the best of the year. 

Mamie Till-Mobley is portrayed by Danielle Deadwyler of The Harder They Fall and Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots. In many instances, Chukwu keeps the camera steady on the actor’s performance as she processes, cries and holds back tears and mistreatment by others following the incident. Deadwyler completely rises to the occasion, delivering a powerful portrayal of a woman mourning her son’s death and then coming into her role as an activist. While Till most certainly concentrates on Emmett Till, his memory and horrible death, the protagonist of this story is Mamie and everything is gently, yet bravely told through her eyes. 

Danielle Deadwyler’s performance in Till is the absolutely highlight and heart of the movie and she gives one of the best performances of 2022 with the affecting and moving turn. 

It’s not easy to watch Till’s story play out, but it needs to be told.

Till finds a solid perspective through which to tell Emmett Till’s story, but there’s no getting away from the discomfort of getting into an event like this one. You’re supposed to feel it, and one should be only so lucky to simply learn more about such a horrible incident through a film rather than be among those who have been the victims of racism and murder like the Tills. The movie is just over two hours and is rather beat by beat and thorough in its storytelling, which can feel exhaustive at times, balanced by its apt messaging. 

But as the difficult emotions and truths of Till unfold, there’s a genuine need for us to know and remember Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley in many of the ways the movie memorializes them. They were a mother and son who did not ask to become icons of the Civil Rights movement but were forced into public conversation, lives shaken and shattered, due to the racist actions of a few men. Events such as this should not be reduced to marks on a timeline in a textbook; we need to continue to interact with the past like this, approach it with empathy and deeply-researched facts when discussing the oppressive ways our society often operates, especially if we want to find insight in the future. Till gracefully contributes to that goal. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.