New “Till” movie avoids exploitation of horrifying hate crime

By Mikayla Silcox

Elm Staff Writer

“Till,” a film about the 1955 torture and lynching of Emmett Louis Till, was released on Oct. 14, 2022. Till’s story is one of racial injustice, and how the brutal murder of the innocent 14-year-old led to a larger civil rights chain of events.

For background knowledge, Till reportedly talked to and whistled at grocery store owner Carol Bryant – a dare from his friends. Four days later, he was abducted by four men, who were friends of Bryant.

Martin Luther King Jr. said of the crime: “[It] might be considered one of the most brutal and inhuman crimes of the twentieth century.” A cotton gin fan was found around Till’s neck; the cause of death spoke volumes about the racially motivated catalyst of the murder.

Till’s mother fought for an open-casket funeral to showcase the brutality of the murder. However, the publicity of the event has a different meaning when it is transformed into a movie 67 years later.

Director and writer Chinonye Chukwu ensured that “Till” would not exploit Till’s death, and instead bring light to the horrors of this incident.

“As a Black person, I didn’t want to recreate it, I didn’t want to shoot it, I didn’t want to watch it, and I wanted to take care of audiences who were watching it, particularly Black audiences,” Chukwu said.

When dealing with ‘Black trauma’ films, the director themselves should be Black, or there should be a team of people backing them with first-hand experience of being a person of color in a place where their skin color makes them a target.

White people can only begin to imagine racially motivated issues, so having a Black director is vital to maintain a lack of ignorance, and to shed light on the situation and not exploit it.

“Till” is also relevant to today in more ways than the racial injustice Black people continue to face. Due to its timeliness, it is easier to see that the film is not just trying to exploit the crime for revenue.

Bryant still remains unaffected by the accusations that cost Till his life, and Till’s family wants some form of justice or even acknowledgement.

In a July 2022 press conference with Daily Mail, Till’s cousin, Patricia Sterling, spoke to reporters about Bryant’s continued innocence.

“The family wants Carolyn Bryant to face justice. We want her to at least come here and defend herself,” Sterling said. While the film will be successful in showcasing the extent of how horrific racially motivated crimes were and still are, there is an additional motive of helping Till’s family.

While “Till” portrays a racist historical event, with sensitivity and warranted depiction, thanks to Chukwu, there comes a point where similar films are created without proper message and effect.

Secretary of the Black Student Union junior Hailey Sutton said that while most movies of the sort are necessary in their telling, she can pinpoint some that were misguided.

She mentioned “Free State of Jones” as a movie that portrayed the abolition of slavery as a white savior film, instead of highlighting the strength of those enslaved.

“The movie was painted as a white savior film, and it seemed totally unnecessary. Not saying that white people did not help to abolish slavery, but they should not be given such praise as I felt that movie gave Newton Knight,” she said.

For this reason, movies dealing with topics of Black injustice and struggles should not be left to white depiction due to insensitivity and inaccuracy.

Sutton agrees that most movies made on these issues give insight to Black struggles during slavery and the Civil Rights movement.

Movies like “Selma” are essential to shed light on racial issues, and the stories being put to film do not exploit or lessen the extent of the real issue at hand.

While films continue to be made to spotlight important events in Black history, it is important to showcase culture and strength as well.

“I feel more with the idea of Black trauma…with the number of films focused on slavery we could shift to focus more on Black Americans and our history which is not just our pain and suffering,” Sutton said.

In accurately depicting Black history, there is much more behind the scenes than slavery or acts of violence.

It is important that films such as “Till” are portrayed in a diplomatic light, so long as they are directed without exploitation and with intention. However, it is also important to use film to show different aspects of representation and Black history that go beyond violence, like “Beauty Shop” or “Hidden Figures,” which show intellect and community empowerment.

Film can be a powerful tool to spread information but it must be used cautiously and respectfully in order to sensitively and correctly spread an intended message.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Caption: The death of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Black boy who was killed by two white men in 1955, will be discussed in a new movie titled “Till.”

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