Emmett Till’s death was a catalyst for the later phases of America’s civil rights movement, and now, with the help of Whoopi Goldberg, Jay-Z and Will Smith, his story is being adapted for the big and small screen.
It’s rare that two new on-screen projects are announced in such quick succession that follow the same premise. But the case of Emmett Till is providing exactly that as both a miniseries and film will be coming out soon, focusing on the shocking historical event.
The 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack, gripped America at the time. The vicious nature of the case set the wheels of the American civil rights movement in motion, resulting in both the 1963 march on Washington and the 1965 Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.
Now, Till’s story will be memorialized in ABC’s miniseries Women Of The Movement and Orion Pictures’ feature film, Till. Women Of The Movement is inspired by the book Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked The World And Propelled The Civil Rights Movement by Devery Anderson. Till is based partly on producer Keith Beauchamp’s original research for his 2005 documentary The Untold Story Of Emmett Louis Till, and will be directed by Clemency’s Chinonye Chukwu.
Both biopics will focus on the role of Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, and her fight for justice on behalf of her young son.
Here’s what we know about each project so far.
What are the upcoming projects about?
Both Till and Women Of The Movement will tell the story of Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, as she reckons with the tragic death of her son.
Her real-life decision to have an open casket at her son’s funeral was a way of publicising what had happened. Pictures of Till’s coffin were widely distributed on newspaper frontals and the decision by Till’s mother saw a resurgence in the civil rights movement.
When announcing the release of Women Of The Movement on the 65th anniversary of Till’s death last year, Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said:
“Today marks 65 years since the tragic murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. This limited series will shine a light on the determined pursuit of justice by Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley.
“Their story involves inconceivable heartbreak and brutality but also the enduring love of a mother and her son, galvanizing a movement that carved the path for today’s racial justice movement. We are honored to be bringing their story to ABC backed by an all-star producing team.”
What is the true story of Emmett Till?
Content warning: contains description of racial violence.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Till was visiting family near Money, Mississippi, during the summer of 1955. On entering the small grocery store there, he is believed to have spoken to the female owner of the store, Carolyn Bryant.
While specific details are disputed, after leaving the store, Bryant accused Till of flirting or whistling at her. She later told her husband, Roy, and along with Roy’s brother, JW Milam, the pair ambushed Till’s great uncle’s home in search of the 14-year-old.
Once they found him, they took him to the Tallahatchie River where they brutally beat and killed him before sinking his body in the river. Three days later, Till’s body was found but was so disfigured that he could only be identified by an initialed ring of his.
Rather than have a quick funeral, Till’s mother Mamie insisted on a public service with an open casket back in Chicago. The decision meant that the tens of thousands of mourners saw Till’s open casket and images of his body were distributed in largely Black-owned publications.
In September 1955, a jury found Roy Bryant and JW Milam not guilty of Till’s murder. Due to the rule of double jeopardy – which prevents an accused person being tried again on the same charges following an acquittal in the same jurisdiction – the pair publicly admitted in a 1956 Look magazine interview that they had killed Till.
It is widely recognised that Till’s murder was the catalyst for the next phase of the civil rights movement in America.
Who stars in Till and Women Of The Movement?
Both adaptations boast famous faces and Till’s full casting has just been announced. As well as producing the film, Whoopi Goldberg will star as Till’s grandmother Alma Carthan. Alongside her, as Till’s mother Mamie, will be The Harder They Fall’s Danielle Deadwyler and teenage debut actor Jalyn Hill in the titular role. The Girl On The Train’s Haley Bennett has also been cast in the upcoming film.
Currently being filmed in Atlanta, The Wire’s Frankie Faison will portray Till’s grandfather John Carthan. Other cast members include The Batman’s Jayme Lawson, The Walking Dead’s Kevin Carroll, Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Tosin Cole and Save The Last Dance’s Sean Patrick Thomas.
Women Of The Movement also has some recognisable faces behind the scenes, with Jay-Z and Will Smith attached to the project as co-producers. The miniseries stars Adrienne Warren, the West End and Broadway star of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, as Mamie Till-Mobley.
The cast will also feature Tonya Pinkins (Red Pill) as Alma, Cedric Joe (Modern Family) as Emmett Till, Ray Fisher (The Flash) and Glynn Turman (How To Get Away With Murder) as Mose Wright.
Has anything been said about Till and Women Of The Movement?
Marissa Jo Cerar, series writer of Women Of The Movement, says: “I am thrilled to bring this project to television.”
“It is unfortunately very timely, and my hope is to give the audience a chance to learn who Emmett Till really was – the boy, rather than the victim or the martyr – while also showcasing Mamie’s astonishing strength in the face of a mother’s worst nightmare.”
She added: “Telling Emmett and Mamie’s story is a responsibility I have not taken lightly since I began this journey last year, because this is more than a tragedy; it’s a story about a mother’s unwavering love of her son and her commitment to bettering the lives of all Black people.”
When speaking to ABC News on the set of Till, Whoopi Goldberg said: “It’s taken us over a decade to get this done. The story of Emmett Till is a story they think they know but they don’t really.
“You never really hear people talk about the real essence of the story. It’s about a mother and son but it’s also about the courage of one woman seeking justice for her son who was murdered by a system in America that, in a funny way, still prevails today.”
In the same interview, producer Keith Beauchamp added: “I believe that when this story is told, it can awaken the sleeping giant once again – the sleeping giant for change. Because I just believe that this movie is not only a movie but a movement.”
You can watch their interview here:
Are there any trailers for either Till or Women Of The Movement?
While neither currently has a trailer, Women Of The Movement does have an official first-look clip for us to get excited about.
You can watch it here:
When will Till and Women Of The Movement be released?
Till is currently being filmed on location in Atlanta, and at the time of writing, there is no official release date for the film.
Women Of The Movement however will be coming to ABC in January 2022, with details of UK and worldwide distribution still being finalised.