a Chinonye Chukwu’s powerful films are driven by the morbid feeling of fear. The fear that racist violence is about to happen, the fear that racist violence is threatened against those who stand up to it. The film is about her 14-year-old black Emmett, who was tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling to a white woman, whose testimony was contested in a subsequent murder trial. . (The final credits are a sobering reminder that this woman is still alive. A fact that shocks everyone.
Danielle Deadweiler plays Mamie Till, a calm and determined professional woman and single parent. Whoopi Goldberg has a cameo as her mother, Alma. Jarrin Hall plays Emmett as a smart, outgoing kid with an irrepressible puppy-like enthusiasm. He was sent from his hometown of Chicago to stay with his family in Mississippi for the summer and received a stern warning from his mother to be careful around white people.
Some of the film’s purest nausea is in the trial itself, with the proudly open racism of court officials and the police. Clearly, the fact that any trial was possible was down to Mamie Till and the NAACP taking up her allegations. It was effectively a private prosecution, and the terrible burden for this fell entirely on Mamie Till herself. Chukwu devises a masterful coup in a scene where he arrives at the courthouse surrounded by NAACP officials and tries to make a quiet and dignified statement to a reporter. What happens next is best left undisclosed here, but it’s a heart-stopping plunge of ironic terror, a bathos of terror.
Till is a fierce portrait of courage and a solemn study of the human cost of resisting this kind of barbarism.