‘Till’ director says, ‘Mamie was more than just a grieving mother’

Chinonye Chukwu sat down with theGrio's April Ryan for a conversation about Till's story and what justice really looks like today.

During awards season, “Till is expected to dominate in nominations and actual wins. The highly anticipated Mamie Till-Mobley biopic is now in theaters, after making a splash and earning rave reviews following its world premiere at the New York Film Festival.

Praise has been lavished on the film, from the script to Danielle Deadwyler powerful performance as Mamie Till to Chinonye Chukwu’s direction. TheGrio’s April Ryan caught up with Chukwu and broke down the movie, discussing aspects like what it took to finally bring Mamie’s story to the big screen and major decisions involved in telling this story truthfully and gracefully.

Nearly 70 years after the lynching of Emmett Till, his story is finally being told on the big screen in large part because of the tireless work of his mother Mamie, who fought hard to get it out there. “Mamie has wanted this story to be told since 1956,” Chukwu explained. “The producers have been trying to get this film made for almost 20 years and they approached me three years ago.”

"Till" UK Premiere - 66th BFI London Film Festival
Chinonye Chukwu, at the UK premiere of “Till” on Oct. 12, 2022 during the 66th BFI London Film Festival at The Royal Festival Hall in London, recently spoke with theGrio’s April Ryan about her approach to the film. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for BFI)

She continued, “I knew that the only way I wanted to tell this story was through Mamie’s point of view and perspective, so once they gave me the full support of my creative vision it was on.”

The director touched on the timeless nature of the film’s themes and how the universal nature of the story has helped audiences connect with “Till” on a deeper than normal level. “Everything that this film explores from the radicalized violence, the effects of radicalized violence and the need to dismantle that and the act of trying to take away voting rights and fighting for voting rights … all of that is so reflected in our present reality.”

Chukwu disclosed that she was committed to humanizing the people at the core of the film. “One of my activist and advocacy intentions with the film was to make all of these incredible freedom fighters feel, sound and look like human beings, to take them off of their historical pedestals and to show them in a layered, multidimensional light,” she said. “Mamie was more than just a grieving mother, she had sister friends, she drank, she smoked, she kicked it with her girls, she had a man … there were so many facets to her! It helps make the film that much more relatable to our present reality as well.”

When Ryan asked whether the film represents justice for Emmett Till, the filmmaker was thoughtful. “I think justice is layered … there is one aspect of justice that involves those who were apart of this lynching and causing of this lynching to be held accountable,” she noted. “There is also justice that looks like the dismantling of the very systems of oppression that helped enable this lynching to even happen. And I think that this movie can contribute to conversations, advocacy work and activism and push people to interrogate within themselves: what does justice look like?”

Ryan’s full interview with Chukwu is currently available to watch.

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