Till is one of the most important films of the year; it is a portrait of a mother’s love, bravery, and ability to always know best for their child.
In Till, Danielle Deadwyler delivers the performance of the year. She is a force that demands the screen in a film that devastatingly covers one of the most horrendous chapters in American history. Till was always going to be a difficult film to make, yet Chinonye Chukwu made the film with such empathy, grace, and compassion, not only for the Till family, but for the audience as well. Many people have expressed valid discomfort with the idea of another film about the brutal murder of Emmett Till. The studio was definitely aware of this as an issue in getting people to see the film, as an ad with Chukwu confirming there is no physical violence shown on screen aired in theaters ahead of Till’s release.
As a white woman, I cannot speak to what this film was like to experience for Black audiences. But as a mother, Till was a truly heartbreaking, painful watch that will stay with me for years to come. Framing the film around Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler) allows the film to focus on a mother’s unimaginable loss and her path to becoming a Civil Rights activist. With the film following Mamie in the aftermath of losing her son, Emmett (Jalyn Hall), as he was brutally murdered at the age of 14-years-old and her pursuit of justice after his lynching, Till deftly avoids turning tragedy into spectacle. In interviews, Chukwu has discussed the film being centered around Mamie and her story; therefore it was not necessary to show the physical violence inflicted on Emmett.
The film certainly falls into some cliches seen in all historical biopics, yet this doesn’t take away from the film because Deadwyler is that captivating. The first chapter of the film is filled with foreshadowing that could be cheesy in the hands of another filmmaker, yet Chukwu combines her direction with a beautiful score from Abel Korzeniowski to keep the audience in the moment. As a mother, the scene in which Mamie says her goodbyes to Emmett at the train station felt so natural; while we know what is to come and this is her final moment with her son, her worries feel justified by the way Deadwyler plays the scene, not just because of what the audience knows is to come.
Deadwyler is able to communicate so much through her eyes in Till; not only is she able to express the profound grief of Mamie losing her child, but she’s also able to express the strength Mamie had. There are sounds of grief that Deadwyler makes that will surely break some viewers, myself included, but the moments in which she soars are the displays of bravery and courage. In the scene in which Emmett’s body is returned to Mamie in Chicago, the cries Deadwyler lets out are haunting and all consuming. Her anguish seeps out of her and while it’s hard to watch, the performance is so powerful that you cannot look away. Perhaps the most emotional scene of the film is when Mamie first sees Emmett’s body. (Full warning: they do show his body multiple times in the film.) In a chilling, heartbreaking sequence, she looks over every inch of his body, studying her son. The film comes back to this moment in the cross-examination scene in the trial, as it is the perfect tie-in to the theme of the film: a mother’s love for her child. While Emmett’s body may be unrecognizable to most, a mother will always know every inch of her child.
In a chilling sequence, Mamie tells the men around her that she wants to have an open casket so the world can see what she saw. This scene showcases not only Mamie’s grief, but her strength in pursuing justice for her son. Deadwyler is able to walk a fine line between the heartbreaking grief and unbelievable courage Mamie displayed in the moments following her son’s body being returned to her. Her performance highlights that the film is truly focused on a mother’s love and journey rather than trauma. Deadwyler’s performance is perfectly lifted up by the rest of the cast, including Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg, John Douglas Thompson, and Kevin Carroll.
Till is one of the most important films of the year; it is a portrait of a mother’s love, bravery and ability to always know best for their child. The film shows there is a responsibility to look back in order to move forward, but does so without re-victimizing Till. We’re reminded of how timely the film still is at it ends with a message that the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act was passed in March of this year. Till is a hard, emotional watch that will move most to tears but the film is worth the gut-wrenching experience for Deadwyler’s performance.
Likely: Best Actress
Should be Considered: Best Adapted Screenplay*, Costume Design
(*As of publication, the screenplay placement has not been confirmed)
Where to Watch: In Theaters
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky