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‘Till’ (film review): A record of racism’s horrific truths

Reliving the appalling suffering of innocent Black people that occured frequently in American history (namely the 1930s-1960s) is a necessary expose of where racism went terribly wrong. Social global movements such as Black Lives Matter prove that social justice is still as much of a struggle today as it was in the 1950s – when the tragedy Till is set.

Till, directed by Chinonye Chukwu, is a historically powerful film (twenty-two years in the making) that chronicles the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s fight for justice following the tragic murder of her fourteen-year-old son, Emmett Till.

Danielle Deadwyler portrays the emotionally tortured mother, Mamie, in an impeccable Oscar-worthy performance, alongside Whoopi Goldberg who stars as Emmett’s grandmother, Alma Carthan, in one of her best roles to date.

Let me preface that viewing Till for me was a heart-wrenching experience, and I wasn’t alone as there seemed to be nary a dry eye in the audience. Thankfully the profound sadness is filtered with moments of joy between Mamie and her sweet natured son Bobo (Emmitt) as the film revels in the pure love of a mother and her child. However, the heavy feeling of foreboding arrives early, and I couldn’t shake it, knowing the sinister evil to come.

Nothing quite prepares you for the harsh, ugly, unbelievable facts of the shameless, brutal slaying of a young innocent boy. Till pays its due to the infamous news photograph of Emmitt’s deceased body that exposed the shocking extent of the damage of the violent assault to his body, every inch disfigured. At 1955 the newspapers boldly ran the front-page story, in order to provoke a community rally of retaliation against racial violence and injustice, especially in Mississippi. In fact, Emmitt’s burial as an open casket was the order of service desperately needed to shock a country into awareness and utter contempt for the accused lynch mob to seek prevention of such a cycle of ignorance and suffering continuing.

No matter how many articles, novels and films we have consumed on the subject of racial hatred, and the knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, you cannot fathom the emotional wretch brought on by the grief of losing a child under such senseless violence.

Mamie bravely spoke out about black death by white authority and this did spark national, even global, attention, demanding justice and gaining momentum in organising civil activism throughout America. The Rosa Parks Civil Movement leader herself was inspired to galvanise Mammie’s fight so as to not lose the opportunity to introduce new legislations in the aim of equality for all.

Struggling to accept Bobo’s murder (Emmitt’s nickname fondly given to him by his adoring mother), Mamie cannot let her innocent son rest in peace until she challenges the control of the white patriarchal justice system and the cowardly government to achieve justice, not just for Bobo, but for her people: what all victims of hate crimes deserve. The ensuing dramatic court case and danger she places herself in facing the ‘devil’ of white hate, makes the film more unbearably tense. We wait in relentless dread, fearful.

These hateful men and their heinous crimes sadly still exist today, as accused guilty murderers of members of minority groups, such as African American George Floyd, murdered by a mob of white policemen – often still avoid the full brunt of the law. It is astounding that 68 years onward nothing much has improved for minority groups (in Australia too) and that racially-led murderers are still not held fully unaccountable to justice.

You may think that going to the movies is just for escapism, to see feelgood films, and may wonder why would you want to put yourself through the emotional ringer with a film like Till? This is the same question Hollywood producers asked, initially preventing the green light for funding the project. I say that there is room for audience immersion in both pure escapism and laughs, and for our conscience to be painfully pricked at times when our society regresses.

There should be no brushing of dirt under the carpet when it comes to crimes against humanity.

It is okay to be haunted by a film long after viewing it, and we need the film industry to offer a range of immersive cinema experiences, not just one flavour. Chukwu’s unflinching brutal honesty in Till makes this an exceptional film, so much more than a history lesson, and worthy of the mainstream radar.

Annette McCubbin


‘Till’ is in cinemas now.

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