Every year when the Oscar nominations are read out, it seems that there is one film that misses out in a criminally horrible mistake on the behalf of The Academy. At the time when this year’s nominations were announced I hadn’t seen Chinonye Chukwu’s movie Till yet. Now that I have, I am one of those people wondering how The Academy got it horribly wrong when they didn’t nominate actress Danielle Deadwyler.
This biographical tale tells the story of American Civil Rights activist and educator Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler) and shows what led her to becoming such a powerful figure. The story begins in Chicago in the year 1955 when Mamie kisses her confident and happy son, Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall), goodbye as he fulfills his Grandmother’s (Whoopi Goldberg) wishes to go and visit his cousins in Mississippi.
Before he leaves, Mamie warns him that to be careful around white people in Mississippi but of course like most 14-year-old boys, he takes the warning with a grain of salt. Emmett soon finds himself in trouble when his actions around Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett) offend her. Not long after, Emmett is kidnapped, tortured, and then killed.
Mamie begins her push for justice after she contacted by her cousin and lawyer Rayfield Mooty (Kevin Carroll) who introduces her to a young activist named William Huff (Keith Arthur Bolden). They feel that her story can help bring real change.
Till is a film that will leave a lasting legacy on its audience. It reminded me of the time my history teacher in high school felt that the class wasn’t truly understanding what happen in America’s south during the 1950s, so he threw on a VHS copy of Mississippi Burning. What I saw and learnt with that film that day remains with me, and Till is a film that will stay with me for a similar reason. It is just so powerful at getting its story across.
To the credit of both director Chinonye Chukwu and her co-screenwriters Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp, the script makes this more than just a ‘seeking justice’ film. The film explores just how Mamie dealt with the fact that early on she felt that people like Mooty and Huff were politicising her son’s death and using it for their own cause. One of the most powerful scenes of Till was when Mamie finally lets go of all of her emotions and lets Mooty have it as he talks about his plans for what he is going to do.
It is hard not to be angry when watching this film as the notion of lynching seems like such a ridiculous and barbaric thing you can hardly imagine anyone ever doing it to another human being. Yet here, we also see a whole state people fully justifying it. While various characters gave evidence in the court room, I found myself gripping the arm of the chair in the cinema as anger rose inside me. I only realised later just how powerful those scenes were and I credit Chukwu for bringing that intensity and emotion to the screen.
What will also stay with me about this film is the performance of Danielle Deadwyler. This is an actress that Hollywood needs to take notice of. Her performance is emotional and brings a power to the screen that we rarely see in modern day cinema. The scenes in which she depicts a mother seeing the dead body of her son are harrowing, while the moments in the court room when she gives evidence are gripping and contain one of the best performances of an actress I have ever seen on screen. Her facial expressions and what she does with her eyes during that sequence is far beyond just good acting. This is a great acting performance and one that should have earnt her an Oscar nomination.
Till is one of the most powerful films that I have seen in a long time. The performance by Danielle Deadwyler is outstanding and I cannot recommend this film highly enough.