Mamie Till it prevented America from turning away. He forced the country to look at the disfigured face of his son Emmett, lynched when he was only fourteen in Mississippi in 1955, where he went on vacation from Chicago for a few days. And why? For being a black preteen he had dared to raise his eyes to the mistress of a convenience store …
Till, the true story
Three years from the powerful Clemency which saw protagonists Alfre Woodard And Aldis Hodgethe director Chinonye Chukwu brings to the big screen one of the most chilling stories of racism and violence in the southern United States. To do this, he relies on a very “classic” idea of staging, which exploits the stylistic features of opera in costume with solidity and wisdom. An aesthetic choice that explicitly aims to embrace as many spectators as possible, who are faced with a film whose packaging is always impeccable scene after scene, from photography to editing, from costumes to the very touching soundtrack of Abel Korzeniowski. A choice perhaps too licky and “conservative” on the part of the filmmaker and the production? It would be rather simplistic to state this, since Chukwu constructs Till using three main elements that allow her to increase the thickness of her film.
Violence told with modesty
First of all, the director does not hold back when it comes to showing the horror of violence and hatred, but she manages to do so without ever indulging in the same in order to create a shocking effect. Even in moments when Till becomes more explicit, such as in the sequences of Mamie’s recognition of the corpse and in that of the funeral with the coffin open, the direction uses a modest modesty of admirable lucidity, and even when the images become strong you never get the feeling that there is any gratuitousness in them. And this is a huge advantage of Till.
The second, great strength of the feature film lies in the screenplay written by Chukwu together with Keith Beauchamp And Michael Reilly: exploiting a dramaturgical development as solid when predictable, the script offers extremely contemporary elements of analysis and discussion, which address the current situation of America at least as much as they do with that of the past. And here’s what phrases like “It wasn’t just two men with a gun …”or the simple gesture of a black witness who dares to point the finger at a white accused, become highly emblematic, and make Till a reflection with an emotional impact but also an intellectual one difficult to ignore.
The strength in the script
Another very fine choice of writing is that of choosing as the psychological and moral “antagonist” of the protagonist not so much the boy’s killers as the woman who accused him and handed him over to his tormentors. Here then Till glides admirably towards an all or almost feminine study, the one that sees a woman unsuccessfully wondering how another woman (and mother) could have been capable of so much hatred towards her child. The moments in which Mamie observes the expressionless face of the “victim” Caroly Bryant (a brave Haley Bennett) are probably the most painful of the entire feature film. And this brings us to the third trump card, which is the capital test of the protagonist Danielle Deadwyler.
The ability to keep a composure inside almost alters the emotions of the character, then letting them shine through in a few but precise scenes, increasing their veracity, allowing her to take advantage of a performance with a powerful internal coherence as the sequences go by. Mamie Till’s awareness is characterized by Deadwyler with painstaking precision, with a work on exemplary body language, qualities that also weaken some redundancies proposed by the feature film especially in the first fifteen, twenty minutes.
Self Till is a better and somewhat different work compared to this type of historical-civil cinema that also seeks the consent of the wider audience, the merit must also be shared with the very calibrated performance of an actress who deserves to compete in the season of nominations and awards that are approaching. Till chooses to tell a painful and terrible story, demonstrates that he knows very well how to do it and is not ashamed of wanting to send his story – and the messages it contains – to as many spectators as possible. And in our opinion this is more than fair.