"No one is going to believe what I just saw."
A fragile story that bears a wealth of emotion and frustration, Chinonye Chukwu's Till recounts the life of Emmet Till, a young Black boy who, in August 1955, boarded a train with his uncle and cousins for Money, Mississippi, excited to see and explore his origins. His protective mother cried tears of nervousness as she waved goodbye from the platform, the distance between them growing. Her fears were well warranted, her tears justified. That was the last time she ever saw her son alive.
Elevated by the story's timeliness and the performance of everyone involved, Till is a remarkable film that highlights a tragic chapter in American history, a page that, some 67 years later, we've yet to turn.
Jalyn Hall gives the performance of his young career, fully encompassing the innocence and joy of Emmett, a fourteen-year-old Black boy who doesn't know or understand the hatred in the world. His bubbly personality is contagious as he dances in front of the television the night before his departure, his face glowing with a bright smile as he talks excitedly about his upcoming trip.
But we, the audience, know his fate. Fun and excitement don't lie on the other end of that train ride. And that knowing creates a knot in your stomach as you dread the moment it comes to fruition. Yet, Chukwu handles every moment with respect, carefully choosing when to push the envelope, giving viewers a bold and decisive narrative they cannot ignore. Where many would step away, she pushes forward, forcing audiences to bear witness to the cruelty that ended this young man's life.
Danelle Deadwyler gives a profound performance as Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett's mother. Her ability to navigate the rough terrain of emotions as she deals with the loss of her only child through a hate crime is both haunting and harrowing. She plays that line with near-flawless precision, standing tall for those around her but dying inside as she grapples with the toll of a broken heart.
Her performance, above everything else, is what drives the film forward. Backed by a slew of incredible supporting work, Till is Mamie's story, and Deadwyler does her justice. Her tears resonate as she sees her son's bruised body lying motionless on the coroner's table. Her screams of agony hit hard as she begs God for mercy, willing to trade anything to return her son alive. She is in pain, and her pain becomes your pain as you wish to remove the sudden weight that sits heavy on her shoulders.
But while Till deals with a lot of pain, there is a moment of opportunity, of significance. Chukwu beautifully counters the dark with the light, showcasing the strength of all involved as they work to get justice for Emmet. The community aspect gives the film a sense of hope, the family mentality that drives home its central message.
Emmet Till should be 81 years old today. His name shouldn't be one that we all know. Till reminds us of his importance and courageously dives into the horrible history we often refuse to acknowledge. It's hard to describe such a story as tremendous or entertaining. Many expect that when they watch any movie. But this film will hit differently. And it demands to be seen.