Sometimes a story needs more then to just be told…
In theatres now; TILL which recaps the story behind the lynching of a young man Emmett Till in America’s South in the 1950’s is one that unequivocally deserves to be told. However, if you already know the story, there are some stylistic and creative choices that take us as an audience away from the impact that the movie could have had.
TILL is a profoundly emotional and cinematic film about the true story of Mamie Till Mobley’s relentless pursuit of justice for her 14 year old son, Emmett Till, who, in 1955, was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi. In Mamie’s poignant journey of grief turned to action, we see the universal power of a mother’s ability to change the world.
There is no questioning the importance of making this film and making sure as wide an audience as possible sees this tragic story and understands how this event was quite possibly a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement of the time, there are elements in the process of telling the story that undercut some of the good things that this film truly does.
Putting this tragedy through the prism of a mother’s eyes was exactly what the film needed to be as this was less about the actual act of violence but understanding the anguish when Mamie learns that there were Black men involved in this crime and putting forth the idea that when something happens to one young black man, it happens to all black people. Seeing Mamie’s anguish crystalize into an understanding of what she needs to do, not just for herself but for her community was quite masterfully done and may even earn some awards considerations when that time of year rolls around.
However, on the flip side of all that the narrative of the film tends to lean on some very tired story telling tropes that detract from the emotional impact that this piece is supposed to have,
It was over scored as its use of music was overtly designed to evoke extra emotion from any given scene. While we’ll admit that this manipulation is common in filmmaking, the use of it here lacked any genuine subtlety or power and it felt like there was a flashing neon sign over the movie screen telling us to tear up when called upon via a swell of music or a carefully framed Zoom in shot.
Outside of Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie the supporting players were underwritten with performances that were at best forgettable with not a lot of external character development. There were some undeniably wooden performances throughout and with the placement of a few significant historical figures in the movement at the time like Medgar Evers never felt like we had any pay off as Mamie navigated this new world as not only grieving mother but now activist as well.
It had far too many moments that felt randomly staged for historical purposes which likely came from co-writer Keith Beauchamp (who directed a documentary on the subject) but it highlights that ever salient reality that the documentary form and the narrative form of storytelling in filmmaking are two VERY different things.
While I certainly applaud the creative decision for the filmmakers not to depict any violence towards black people on film and at least initially pan away from the image of Emmett’s face while in the coffin. But when it ultimately does show us the horrors of his face it feels like an ideal that has been betrayed because the much more powerful images the audience was bound to conjure in their heads would have had much more impact then what was shown on screen.
At the end of the day, if you know very little about the story of Emmett and Mamie Till and his significance in the rise of the civil rights movement, then by all means see TILL because it’s an important thing to do. But with that being said, if you do know the story and you do see TILL there’s a real chance you won’t be able to shake that these people in our history and their story probably deserved better then this.