The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may have appallingly snubbed Till this year when it came to Oscar nominations, but the President of the United States today had nothing but accolades for the Chinonye Chukwu directed film about the 1955 lynching of civil rights activist teenage Emmett by racists and his mother’s relentless fight for justice.
“To everyone involved in this film, to paraphrase Maya Angelou: People will never forget how you make them feel,” Joe Biden said Thursday before the Till screening at the White House. “People will never forget how you make them feel,” the President added. “You know, you have that artist’s gifts of making us feel our common humanity.”
Based on the horrific events of Emmett Till’s death in Mississippi almost 70 years ago, and the determination of Mamie Till-Mobley to literally open her son’s casket at his Chicago funeral and shine a literal spotlight for the whole world to see on the pain and trauma he suffered in his fatal quest for equality, Till was released last October in cinemas. The film from Orion Pictures, MGM Pictures and United Artists Releasing stars Danielle Deadwyler as Till-Mobley and Jalyn Hall as Emmett. Director Chukwu co-wrote the powerful script with Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp.
Chukwu, Deadwyle, Hall, Reilly, and Beauchamp were all in attendance today for the Black History Month celebrating East Room screening. Also there with “the family of Emmett Till, students, civil rights leaders, historians and families of victims of hate-fueled violence,” as the White House said earlier this week, were Whoopi Goldberg, who played Alma Carthan, Mamie’s mother and Emmett’s grandmother in the film and is a producer, as well as fellow Till producers Thomas Levine, Fred Zollo, and Barbara Broccoli, who runs the James Bond franchise.
“Only with truth comes healing and justice and repair and another step forward in the — for that promise we all made but have never reached: a more perfect union,” POTUS said to the invited audience before the screening. “But we’ve never fully given up on it,” he continued. “That’s why we can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and we have to learn what we should know. We should know everything about our history. And that’s the — great nations do. Great nations. And we’re a great nation.”
“And that’s why history matters so much,” Biden added in his sometimes unscripted remarks. “You know, that’s why this film matters so much.”
Nearly 120 years after such legislation was first introduced into Congress, Biden last year signed into law a bill named after Emmett Till that officially and finally made lynching a federal hate crime. As members of the Till family pursue justice against the now 90-year old white woman Carolyn Bryant Donham who allegedly complained in August 1955 about the visiting Emmett making advances to her, that bill Biden signed does nothing to the now deceased Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, who were tried for Till’s murder and quickly acquitted by an all-white jury. Not long afterward the Mississippi men, one of whom was married to Emmett’s accuser at the time, admitted in a paid magazine interview that they did kill the 14-year old.
Late last year, Till ansd Till-Mobley were posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award the body can give.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre first announced at her February 14 briefing that the “incredibly powerful movie” would be screening today. “We haven’t actually screened many movies, so the fact that we’re doing this in this month, I think sends a strong message from the President and from this White House, from the First Lady, how important we think it is to lift this movie up and to make sure that his story continues to be told and not forgotten,” she said before the assembled White House press corp.
Today, President Biden echoed that statement in his own way: “And now, from the White House, during Black History Month, it’s my honor — and it is a genuine honor — maybe the greatest honor I’ve had since I’ve become President — my honor to introduce the film, Till. God love him.”
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