by Dwight Brown, NNPA News Wire Film Critic
“Hardly a moment goes by that I don’t think about Emmett and the lessons a son can teach a mother.” Quote from Grandma Till-Mobley.
Emmett Till, a black teenager, was murdered by racists in Money, Mississippi on April 28e in 1955.
Writer/Director Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency) and co-writers Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp (doc filmmaker of the award-winning film The Untold Story of Emmett Till) recount this brutal crime largely from the perspective of the mother. A mom whose quest for accountability and justice sparked a new era in the civil rights movement. A crusade that has become a model for other black mothers forced into the same situation by heinous acts of violence. Till-Mobley passed away in 2003, but her fighting spirit lives on in this highly informative and deeply moving bio/drama.
In 1955, Granny (Danielle Deadwyler, The more they fall), a young, single, widowed mother, has a well-respected office job with the Air Force in Chicago. With great trepidation and encouraged by her mother Alma (Whoopi Goldberg), she sends her 14-year-old son, Emmett (Jalyn Hall, Slugger) South to Mississippi for the summer to stay with relatives.
Before she leaves, Grandma dutifully and prophetically warns her affable son to moderate his vibrant behavior, recognize the harms of racism, and be on his guard. Hanging out with his cousins outside a grocery store, Emmett whistles and offends Carol Bryant (Haley Bennett), a white woman whose family owns the store. Several nights later, Bryant’s irate husband, half-brother and others broke into Emmett’s great-uncle’s house, abducted, mutilated and shot the vulnerable boy.
Chicago is informed of the teenager’s disappearance and murder. Grandma’s worst fears turn into agony and grief. She is shocked to act, seeking truth, accountability, and judgment. Courageously, she opposes Southern racism during the trial of her son’s killers: “Hate is like a virus in the blood of Mississippi.
Meticulously, with the refined brushstrokes of an artist, the wisdom of a shaman and the spirit of a fighter, Chukwu tells the historical story of Grandma. Feelings of sadness, anger and ultimately inspiration emerge in a way that will enlighten and move the audience. Ingeniously, as its illuminating bio/crime/drama confronts treacherous bigotry, the film grows increasingly engrossing. Wisely, the violence surrounding Till’s gruesome death is kept off-camera and never exploited.
Family life is endearing, the intense legal drama (à la Kill a mockingbird) and the clever strategies used to keep this tragedy in the public eye are exposed. When Till-Mobley asks for an open casket for the world to see what they’ve done to her baby, her sense becomes awe-inspiring. You feel the misery, but you also see an indomitable spirit put into action.
The images are eye-catching and the sounds cut through the crises. Every color (art directors Carlton Lee Jr, Christopher Tandon), thread (costume designer Marci Rodgers), decor (set designer Curt Beech), and prop (Cassaundra Marie) works to replicate times and places. The proceedings are captured in luminescent cinematography (Bobby Bukowski, The messenger) and intensified by a thrilling score with evocative acapella voices (Abel Korzeniowski). All scenes and sequences are carefully assembled into an increasingly intense chain of images (editor Ron Pantane).
The accomplished cast includes Frankie Faison as Grandpa, Sean Patrick Thomas as Grandma’s future husband, Gene Mobley, and John Douglas Thompson as the central role of the uncle who has to live with haunting regrets. Goldberg, as Grandma Alma Carthan, takes a very low-key approach to her characterization, making the matriarch all the more believable. Jalyn Hall’s portrayal of Emmett is so vibrant and likeable that it makes the teenager’s tragic death all the more devastating.
Deadwyler’s angst-filled and daring performance draws you into the full range of emotions of Mamie. Happy protective mother. Fearful parent. Enraged Guardian. Ardent defender. When Emmett’s coffin is pulled from a train, she cries and moans in a way so primal it will touch your soul. In a funeral home, when Grandma sees her son’s body, touches his mangled corpse and screams in pain, it will break your heart. Deadwyler’s display of sadness is so deep and expressive that it deserves an Oscar® Award.
Sometimes the love between a mother and her son is so strong that it does not die, even after death. That’s what the public will see here. That’s what they’ll remember. An enduring love and strength.
Opening in theaters on October 14ewith a wide release on October 28e.
For more information on the New York Film Festival, visit: https://www.filmlinc.org/nyff2022/
Visit NNPA News Wire film critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.
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