“Till” is based on the 1955 incident of the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi and his mother’s subsequent fight of for justice. This is a well-documented event in history because it brought the brutality and injustices faced by black people to the forefront of the national consciousness. In the past half-decade, the world has woken up to the “Black Lives Matter” movement more than ever before. Watching this movie filled us with a deep sense of unease and dread because 67 years have passed since 1955, yet we know that the present-day situation for the black community is barely better. When it comes to the movie itself, the subject was handled with due sensitivity, with the creative choices staying true to the spirit of Mamie’s struggles. We believe that is what made this such a riveting film: its closeness to the intentions of people in history. For that reason, we hope you will excuse us if we are a little short with the details of the events of the movie. We would rather focus on the message because this is a cinema that places the story above the medium of its presentation. The story of Emmett Till, aka, Bobo, is one that should never be forgotten because, looking back at history in the present day, we realize that we haven’t come that far and that we still have miles to go.
The Journey Of Justice For Emmett
It’s August 1955 in Chicago, Illinois, and Mamie is preparing to send her son to Mississippi to spend his vacation with his cousins. She is not very happy about this, as she realizes that the racism in the deep South might be too much for her 14-year-old son to handle. Of course, she is apprehensive, as even in Chicago, the store clerk tells her that there are purses in the basement, and as soon as Emmett “Bobo” Till leaves the wallet counter, another clerk checks whether all the items are there or not. We wish we could say that this was a thing of the past. But sadly, we have all read the news articles that show that this is still a prevalent practice in even some of the leading retail shops. Either way, she coaches him to be the smaller person while in Mississippi so that he escapes the attention of the white people. Avoiding any and all scrutiny is the only way for him to be safe. There is a backdrop of racial and political tensions running high in the South. Lamar Smith and Reverend Lee, two black men, fought for the right of the black population to vote and got hundreds of them registered, only for both of them to be killed. Essentially, it was a time when White people were extremely resistant to any and all kinds of social acceptance for the Blacks. While Mamie is anxiously waiting for her son’s return, he gets into a bit of trouble when he tries to flirt with a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. Though it initially looks like the matter has ended, things escalate when two white men show up at the Wright house and take Bobo with them. We know what happens next. It was not shown on camera, but the horror of it did not escape us.
The next day, Mamie gets a call that her son is missing. Though she initially panics, her partner Gene Mobley asks her to call up her father, who can take better action. Which he does and puts her in touch with Rayfield Mooty, who takes up her case. He knows some powerful black people and tries to raise awareness about Emmett’s disappearance through them. There is a bit here with a character named Mr. Huff who points out that she will come under scrutiny as the case starts receiving more attention and that any indiscretion on her part will adversely affect her quest. We can tell this is a case of sexism, with the intersectionality of race, where black women were viewed through a particular lens. We would talk more about it, but we prefer to keep the focus of this article on Mamie’s journey for justice.
As the news articles start picking up on the disappearance of Emmett Till, Mamie receives the news that they have found his body in the river. She is devastated, and it is quite clear that this is a hate crime. While she is dealing with it, Rayfield Mooty tries to ask her to use her voice to get the anti-lynching legislation passed, but she is not in the right headspace to hear it. She just asks him to make sure that Emmett’s body comes back to Chicago. Her wishes are fulfilled, and when she sees his mutilated body, something within her shifts. We must admit that, until this point, we seriously questioned the intentions of the makers for even depicting the events leading to the death of Bobo. We perceived the depiction of the injustice before the journey for justice to be a ruse to titillate the audience. However, it is at this point that we realize its exact importance. In the original case, Mamie had chosen to let the world view her son’s body because, in her own words, she wanted the world to know what they did to her baby. The makers of this movie, by taking the creative decision to let the audience see the extent of the mutilation of the body, were carrying out the wishes of the late Mamie. Coming back to the movie, at Emmett’s open casket funeral, Mrs. Wright tells her that she has moved out of the South and that her family will be joining her soon. She also tells her that there was nothing they could do that day to save him.
Mamie understands and accepts her apology and condolences. In her determination to fight for justice, she decides to go to Money to testify. Her parents are reluctant to let her go, but seeing that she will not budge, her father accompanies her. She leaves without Gene so that she can protect her image and handle the case more smoothly. Once she reaches Mississippi, she is taken safely to Mount Bayou, a black town where people are living successful lives. She meets Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist, who tells her that her fight is not hers alone. And justice for Bobo is not just about avenging his murderers but making sure that the members of the black community do not face such a fate again. The date of Emmett’s case arrives. We do not have the stomach to go into the details of how Mamie was treated on that day. All we can say is that it was pretty evident that her case was being approached with a complete lack of apathy, and the result was evidently predetermined. Mamie asks to go to Money, where she takes a look at the store where Bobo had run into trouble, the place where it all started. She also goes to the Wrights’ house, where the boys apologize to her for what happened to Bobo. Mamie reassures them, but she is furiously disappointed when she sees a rifle in the house. Of course, she confronts Mason about it, but the pain of knowing that he had to let Emmett go for the sake of his sons and the rest of the black people in the state is too much for her to bear.
‘Till’ Ending Explained: Does Mamie Get Justice For Bobo?
Back in court, Mason and another witness testified against Milam and Bryant, but their testimony is still under scrutiny. The following single-shot scene, which shows Mamie telling the court how she knew it was her son’s body, had our hearts breaking into a million pieces. It is a testament to the skill of Danielle Deadwyler as an actress, and we respect her for the grace she lent to the character. At the end of it, she exclaims that the lawyers and the jury killed her son all over again. In the next court hearing, Carolyn Bryant is called to the witness stand, and she fabricates a lie about how Bobo had tried to misbehave with her. Mamie doesn’t stay back to hear her finish her story. She leaves the room, saying she knows what the verdict will be. As she predicts, it is “not guilty.” But it is not the end of Mamie’s journey. She is seen at a rally, having joined hands with the NAACP, where she talks about the need to stop ignoring the injustices committed against the black community. The final scene of the movie shows her back in her house, playing the song she and Bobo used to sing to, while she imagines him happy and smiling.
As far as justice for Bobo is concerned, Milam and Bryant confess to the murder against Emmett to a magazine the following year for $4000. But they are protected under double jeopardy and cannot be prosecuted. Carolyn does not suffer any consequences for her part in the whole case. Medgar Evers is assassinated 8 years later, in front of his wife and children. A tiny shred of a happy ending could be that Mamie and Gene get married and are together till the end of their days. We do not know if it can be called justice that this was the case that really pushed the Civil Rights Movement into the limelight. 67 years after the passing of Emmett Till, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act was passed, which made lynching a hate crime under federal law. Please note that it took 67 years to recognize it as a hate crime. Was the law really so careless that it saw it as something else before that? We don’t even want to ponder over this question.
Final Thoughts: What Works For The Film ‘Till’?
“Till” was a movie that was storytelling in its purest form and stayed true to the real essence of the history it sought to tell. The movie called for not just good actors but ones who had an understanding of what it means to carry the generational trauma of a whole race. Kudos to them for holding onto that baggage for their characters. “Till” is not an easy movie to recommend, but it is a must-watch. There is not a single miss-able moment in it, and hopefully, by the end of it, even the glibbest person will be encouraged to educate themselves further on the issues of race and discrimination and how they continue to affect people across demographics. Please watch the movie and become a little wiser today.
“Till” is a 2022 Drama Biopic film directed by Chinonye Chukwu.