So, the trailer for the upcoming Emmett Till movie is out, and—well—I just don’t think I’m ever going to be prepared to watch this film.
The movie Till is actually focused on the true story of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and her dedication to receiving justice for her son. At the very least, that lessens the chance that audiences are going to be expected to watch a graphic depiction of Emmett’s brutal lynching at the hands of white monsters. The truth is, I’m hesitant to see Till for the same reason I never watched Ava DuVernay‘s Central Park Five docuseries: I just don’t like watching Black boys suffer.
Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning that, if Black Twitter is any indication, most Black people are more than just anxious about seeing the film—they’d rather it simply not exist.
For the record, the film’s director, Nigerian filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu said in a recent interview that she has no intention of dramatizing the horrors of Emmett’s death.
“I don’t want to re-traumatize audiences or myself,” Chukwu said during a press conference, according to Entertainment Weekly.
“I knew that the way that I needed to tell this story was through the emotional journey of Mamie,” she continued. “We’ve got to keep it focused on Mamie and her relationship with Emmett. Once everybody was on board, I started a very intense research journey.” She also said the film does “not just show the inherent sadness and pain,” but also the “joy and love that is really at the root of the narrative.”
So, that’s comforting I suppose.
While I myself am apprehensive about seeing the movie, I gotta say, many of the negative Black Twitter reactions feel kind of knee-jerk. I understand the sentiment of Black folks being tired of Black trauma stories, but I also have to ask: How can our historical stories be told without the inclusion of white supremacy and white violence?
This isn’t to say that Blackness is defined solely by the racism and white violence we have endured, but racism and white violence are not things we can easily separate from our stories. Every step of Black progress has seen white supremacy as an adversary. And yet, Black history is American history and even the most violent and horrid aspects of American history are often depicted in novels, TV, and, of course, film.
This isn’t like when some white woman decided to write an Emmett Till Opera and tell Emmett’s story from the point of view of a fictional white woman character. No matter how many Black contributors signed off on that project, that was just gentrified white nonsense that should never have happened. But this ain’t that. Mamie’s story is one that rightfully should be amplified on the big screen.
With all that being said, here’s what I don’t want to see in this movie:
We’ve been over the fact that Black people don’t want to see some trauma-porn depiction of Emmett’s death, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. But what’s equally important, in my opinion, is that all the villains in this movie be depicted as villains.
Not only is it important that Carolyn Bryant Donham—the white woman whose racist allegations got Emmett lynched in the first place—not be portrayed as a sympathetic character even remotely, but she needs to be actively portrayed as a villain if she’s portrayed at all. I don’t want to see any depiction of her character that lends any legitimacy to the demure victim she erroneously claimed she was in her recently unearthed memoirs.
I don’t want to hear about Donham’s claims that she never wanted Emmett lynched and that she tried to defend him from her husband and brother-in-law, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. I don’t want to see this woman humanized to any extent at all.
At the end of the day, it’s not hard to understand why Black people feel the way many of us do about this film. The tragedy of Emmett Till is one of those things we hold sacred. Even the narrative that Emmett’s open casket served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement is problematic because no one wants to see his story turn into a redemption arc for white America.
Still, I don’t think it’s fair to cast dispersions on a film that we haven’t seen yet passed a trailer just because we don’t like the idea of an Emmett Till movie at all.
In short: If you don’t want to see it then don’t see it. But you not wanting to see it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist.
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