Till is the story of the lynching of little Emmett Till, which took place in the Southern United States in 1955 and of the courage of his mother Mamie, who inspired the civil rights movement. Daniela Catelli’s review.
There are crimes that cry out to heaven for vengeance and remain unpunished, atrocious wickedness committed against a human being by those who don’t even seem human, stories that need to be known and therefore told for those who don’t know anything about them or remembered for those who risk forgetting them. The lynching of Emmett Till, which took place in 1955 in Money, a town of few souls in the racist deep South of Mississippi, is one of the most atrocious crimes among the many of which black Americans have been victims, and the strength of the denunciation of the mother Mamie Till-Mobley was instrumental in the widening of the protest and the effectiveness of the civil rights movement. To tell this real horror page, after the series Lovecraft Countryis today director Chinonye Chukwu with the film Till – A mother’s couragewhich is part of the cinema of civil commitment.
Emmett Louis Till, known as Bobo, or simply Bo, is a lively and intelligent 14-year-old boy, a bit of a braggart like all teenagers, much loved by the widowed mother of a war hero, with whom he lives in Chicago, where he has a calm and happy. Mamie works in the Air Force, is about to remarry a barber and even though she may happen to meet an annoying employee in a department store who suggests that she go and buy shoes “downstairs”, she is self-confident and knows she lives an extremely different situation from that of her relatives who pick cotton in the South. We meet her just on the eve of Bobo’s departure for Money, for a vacation to spend with uncles and cousins. Despite the boy’s light-heartedness and her thousand recommendations, the woman knows very well that for a child raised in love, the concept of hate is incomprehensible and for this reason she has dark and repeated forebodings about her journey. Unfortunately, the worst happens: unjustly accused by the white owner of a general store of having disrespected her, in the middle of the night and at gunpoint Bobo is kidnapped by the woman’s husband and brother, taken to a shed and tortured by them and by other men, until death.
His mangled body will resurface from the river in terrible condition a few days later and there begins the ordeal and Mamie’s commitment. When she sees how her son has been reduced, the woman demands that the funeral take place with an open coffin and chooses that the photos of her unrecognizable body be published in Jet magazine, to reach as many people as possible in a country still tragically divided in half. Money’s racist white citizens seem to have remained in the era of slavery and exercise the power of life and death over anyone who dares to claim equal rights: the murder of Emmett Till is always preceded in Mississippi by that of two activists, including the reverend George W. Lee, whose wife preceded Mamie in the decision to carry out the funeral with an open casket. And just 8 years after the shameful acquittal of the boy’s killers, in 1963, too Medgar Evers of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), whom we see accompanying Mamie on her journey, is murdered in front of his family (the film was dedicated to him L’agguato – Ghosts From the Past).
Till it has the main advantage of telling the female gaze very well: not only the dignity and pride, even in the most excruciating pain, of the courageous mother Mamie, but also the remorse of the old grandmother (an unrecognizable Whoopi Goldbergalso producer), the prophetic fears of Evers’ wife and that feminine monstrosity that is Carolyn Bryant (a beautiful and courageous proof of Haley Bennett into a repulsive character). Her ferocity and absolute indifference to the unforgivable agony she caused to a child show us that being a mother does not automatically mean being able to feel pity and love. The indirect confrontation between the two women in court is one of the film’s most successful moments. Till also effectively narrates the fear, the real terror experienced by those who live in a place where they know that any gesture or word, if misinterpreted or deliberately misunderstood, can cost them their lives, at the whim of a peasant who has on his side the law.
And it is true that it is a current film: to us the exposure of Emmett’s body reminded us of the photos of Stefano Cucchi after the beating, made public by her sister. And her story made us think of the torment of the parents of Giulio Regeni, who did not want to make those images known but witnessed the evil he wrought on their son’s body and are still waiting for justice, 67 years after the murder of another innocent who did not get it. A story like this, however, deserved a different approach in our opinion. The controversy over the exclusion of Chinonye Chukwu from the Oscar nomination as director, but seeing Till we are not struck by the style of the staging: classic, glossy and at times didactic, which takes away from the very message it wants to convey. If anyone were to complain about being ignored by the Academy, she could be the protagonist Danielle Deadwyler, which offers a truly very intense performance, even if it remains trapped in the shackles of a film which, despite the true, terrible and unimaginable horror it tells, fails to unleash the power, even violent, of a militant cinema capable of reaching the bowels of the viewer. That said, films that tell these stories must always exist and be seen, at least until (not surprisingly “till”, in English) they stop happening. And judging by what is still happening today, we fear that this moment is still far away.
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