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‘Till’ Director Has the Perfect Reason for Not Showing Physical Violence on Screen

Chinonye Chukwu speaking about TILL with image of Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till-Mobley. Image: MGM.

Some of the most important images of the 20th century, or really just American history in general, are two images of 13-year-old Emmett Till. One features him on Christmas at 13 years old, just months before his death, and the other is a picture of his face taken at the open casket funeral, by request of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. Tortured to death in 1955, after a false claim of whistling at a white woman, the contrasting images of Till before and after death, released to the press, is one of the galvanizing components of the Civil Rights movement.

The importance of the appalling photo (and the violence behind it) was a point of concern when the trailer and images for the movie Till started to come out. In an MGM (owned by Amazon) featurette for Chinonye Chukwu and Keith Beauchamp’s upcoming film, director Chukwu promised limited physical violence in their story about Till-Mobley’s fight to make sure her son’s story isn’t lost to history.

This story needs to be told in a way that is humanizing, empowering, and necessary. There will be no physical violence against Black people on screen because I’m not interested in relishing in that kind of physical trauma. We’re going to begin and end in a place of joy.

The power of imagery

Chukwu’s decision comes at a time when there is an ongoing discussion about the oversaturation of imagery showing violence against Black people and bodies. As strides are being made in Hollywood to prevent this from being the default (without, importantly, wholly erasing this history), there is an unrelenting demand for “trauma porn,” and with social media, people share images callously, without thinking about the effect on the mental health of those reflected in those images.

It’s not like these images aren’t sometimes useful in advocating for justice or telling an important story, but it has become the default. At the time when Till-Mobley made the choice to invite the press to an open casket funeral of her son, this wasn’t the norm. The decision to keep the audience’s wellbeing and contemporary discussion in mind while also challenging us (and herself as a filmmaker) is admirable, even in the worst-case scenario.

Chukwu’s assuredness and Beauchamp’s involvement as a co-writer—he’s worked on several projects about the Tills, including the 2005 documentary The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, which features Till-Mobley—leave me more interested than I initially was to see a film about this story. Taking us through Till-Mobley’s life and advocacy feels uplifting and not like something I have to mentally brace myself for, unlike most Hollywood films about war or Black history—both of which I will often put off for years even though I enjoy most of them.

(via MGM, featured image: MGM)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with an interest in art, politics, identity, and history—especially when they all come together. This Texan balances book-buying blurs with liberal Libby use.