The warmth of community and the chills of inspiration resonated throughout the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles as president of the newly rebranded Orion Pictures president Alana Mayo sang the praises of Till being the company’s inaugural release since its makeover. The film’s director and co-writer Chinonye Chukwu took the stage and kept the love going, praising nearly every person who worked on the film (many of them in the audience) and invited the film’s stars Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison, Sean Patrick Thomas, and John Douglas Thompson…and then the Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobey’s literal legacy stepped on to the stage to an ovation from the crowd.
Till’s family including Deborah Watts (cousin of Emmett Till and co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation) was joined by iconic civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams — yes, she’s the wife of thee Medgar Evers.
There’s something very surreal about seeing icons like Evers and those connected to people who had a significant impact on the world, like the Till family, in the flesh. It’s giving legendary energy.
In the film, Evers-Williams is played by Jayme Lawson while Tosin Cole portrays Megar Evers. Both were part of the Emmett Till narrative that pretty much changed the world — and it was all through the passion and power of his mother Mamie Till-Mobley who is played by the incomparable Danielle Deadwyler.
In what is a fierce, career-changing (and Oscar-worthy) performance, Deadwyler is our compass on this journey which follows the true story of Mamie’s pursuit for justice in 1955 for the death of her 14-year-old son Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall) who was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi.
Myrlie Evers-Williams took the opportunity to speak to the audience, the legacy of her husband who was assassinated and the legacy of Emmett Till.
“Medgar paid the price of what Mississippi thought he should,” Evers-Williams said. “On June 12, 1963, he came home from work, got out of the car and was shot. Dead.”
She continued, “But his spirit lives and goes on…Emmett Till’s spirit goes on.
Evers-Williams urged people to spread the word about the film and said that despite all that is happening that we are “going to be alright” because we “are going to work for it.”
Needless to say, the film wowed the audience… and yours truly was ugly crying in the best way possibly.
Till opens in select theaters October 14 before its wide release October 28.
I know we already posted this statement about the film from Chinonye Chukwu, but I think it’s worth a repost:
When I was approached to write and direct a story about Emmett Till, I found myself drawn to a singular figure at the center of his orbit. I saw an opportunity to subvert expectations and approach the narrative through another lens – from the maternal point of view of Mamie Till-Mobley. Had it not been for Mamie, her son’s memory would have evaporated into thin air. She was the catalyst for a modern day civil rights movement that has laid a formidable framework for future activists and Freedom Fighters. I felt compelled to champion Mamie’s legacy and center her in the spotlight where she rightfully belongs.
Mamie’s untold story is one of resilience and courage in the face of adversity and unspeakable devastation. For me, the opportunity to focus the film on Mamie, a multi-faceted Black woman, and peel back the layers on this particular chapter in her life, was a tall order I accepted with deep respect and responsibility. On the daily, Mamie combatted racism, sexism, and misogyny, which was exponentially heightened in the wake of Emmett’s murder. Mamie did not cower. Instead, she evolved into a warrior for justice who helped me to understand and shape my own similar journey in activism. And as a filmmaker, showing Mamie in all her complex humanity was of utmost importance.
The crux of this story is not about the traumatic, physical violence inflicted upon Emmett – which is why I refused to depict such brutality in the film – but it is about Mamie’s remarkable journey in the aftermath. She is grounded by the love for her child, for at its core, TILL is a love story. Amidst the inherent pain and heartbreak, it was critical for me to ground their affection throughout the film. The cinematic language and tone of TILL was deeply rooted in the balance between loss in the absence of love; the inconsolable grief in the absence of joy; and the embrace of Black life alongside the heart wrenching loss of a child.
I hope viewers will empathize with the humanities on screen and see our present cultural and political realities within this film. And I hope that Mamie’s story helps us all to realize the power within ourselves to continue to fight for the change we want to see in the world, just as she did.