There’s a lot of pain in Till, the heartbreaking story of the history-changing lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till. A lot of pain, sorrow, and anger. And it’s not seen only on the face of Emmet’s devastated mother, Mamie (Danielle Deadwyler, The Harder They Fall). We feel it too. It is an extremely difficult film to watch, but one of the most important of the year.

In actuality, this isn’t the story of Emmett Till’s death. For that, be sure to check out the powerful documentary called The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. Rather, Till, as directed by Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency), and co-written by Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp, is a mother’s story. It is about the resilience and courage in the face of adversity as told from the maternal point of view of Mamie Till-Mobley. In other words, this is Deadwyler’s movie and she delivers a searing performance that may turn out to be the best of the year. It’s hard to imagine anyone besting it.

"an extremely difficult film to watch, but one of the most important of the year"

Till begins in 1955 Chicago as we meet Mamie, a widowed mother who lost her husband in World War II, and is the only black woman working for the Air Force in Chicago. Her as-happy-as-a-black-woman-can-be-in-1955 existence, along with that of son Emmet (a wonderful Jalyn Hall, The House With a Clock in its Walls), who she affectionately calls Bo, will soon clash against the ignorance and intolerance of the South when she sends Bo to visit his cousins and great uncle in Money, Mississippi.

Before putting her son on the train to head south, Mamie reminds Bo that things are a lot different down there, so “make yourself small, and if you ever find yourself in conflict with white folks, get on your knees and apologize.” Bo shrugs off the warning as he and his mother circle his bedroom while dancing happily to jazz records.

Once in Mississippi, however, Bo has a bit of trouble fitting in. More of a city boy in his pleated fleece trousers, gold Albert chain, and slub weave shirts, he’s not cut out for the difficult work of picking cotton in his uncle’s fields. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a white female store clerk goes awry when he gives the lady what he considers to be a harmless wolf whistle. Mamie will never see her son alive again.

Bringing a deep passion and a baked-in emotional ethos to this socially conscious film is a cast which includes an unrecognizable Whoopi Goldberg under heavy prosthetics who plays Mamie’s mother, John Douglas Thompson as Bo’s great-uncle who was responsible for the boy the night he was abducted, and Tosin Cole in his limited scenes as civil rights activist and advisor to Mamie, Medgar Evers. Along with remarkable period production and costume design by Curt Beech and Marci Rodgers respectively, we are transported back to the racially charged atmosphere of 1955 Mississippi. There’s an ironic beauty to the proceedings that keeps us a bit off kilter.Till

Another of the film’s primary strengths comes from Chukwu, who clearly knows what she has in both Deadwyler and the story the two are telling. The temptation to push this whole thing over into melodrama must have been very strong. And with such persuasive subject matter it, quite frankly, would have worked anyway. Fortunately, that never happens. Chukwu’s stable, sensitive hand lets the heart-wrenching subject matter do the talking.

Realizing that her story is about Mamie’s remarkable journey in the aftermath of losing her son, Chukwu chose to spare us from the physical violence. Hearing the screams, and experiencing the pain on the face of a mother who has just lost her son is far more effective than witnessing the brutality first hand. Till is less about the murder and more about knowing, learning, and promising to remember.

The film is, at times, slow moving and methodically paced with a few too many pregnant pauses as Chukwu’s camera stays glued to Deadwyler’s face. In most instances, the technique strengthens the film’s message and speaks to the actress’s ability to carry the film, but in others it nears indulgent padding. Regardless, Till is an emotionally relentless story about a mother’s strength in the aftermath of an unspeakable tragedy. It carries with it a message that continues to resonate to this day.

5/5 stars

Film Details


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content involving racism, strong disturbing images and racial slurs.
130 mins
: Chinonye Chukwu
Michael Reilly; Keith Beauchamp; Chinonye Chukwu
Danielle Deadwyler; Jalyn Hall; Frankie Faison
: Drama | Biography
Based on the true story.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Make yourself small."
Theatrical Distributor:
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 28, 2022
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: In 1955, after Emmett Till is murdered in a brutal lynching, his mother vows to expose the racism behind the attack while working to have those involved brought to justice.