EXCLUSIVE: Jesse Williams, one of the stars of ABC’s long-running series, Grey’s Anatomy, is marking his feature directorial debut with Till, a film centered around Mamie Mobley Till, the mother of Emmett Louis Till, a Black teen who was lynched after being accused flirting with a white woman in the Jim Crow-era South.
Williams, an outspoken human rights activist, is directing from a screenplay by Michael Reilly and civil rights filmmaker Keith A. Beauchamp. The film is based on Beauchamp’s 2005 documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, which led the United States Department of Justice to reopen the Till case in 2004.
Furthermore, Williams is producing the project with Whoopi Goldberg, who will also act in the film, Frederick Zollo, Barbara Broccoli, Thomas Levine, Leah Natasha Thomas, and Beauchamp.
Till is about Mamie Mobley Till’s journey for justice following the brutal murder of her fourteen-year-old son in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in 1955. Production is slated to commence Summer 2019 with the support of the Till family.
Emmett Till’s murder was seen as the impetus for the next phase of the Civil Rights Movement. At the time of his funeral, Mamie famously insisted on an open casket ceremony, exposing her son’s mutilated body and bringing attention not only to racially charged violence but also to the odious and barbaric practice of lynching.
The two white men who kidnapped and murdered Emmett were acquitted by an all-white jury. The men later confessed to the murder in an interview published in Look magazine, but due to the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the men were protected from a retrial.
Carolyn Bryant-Donham, the woman at the center of Emmett’s case, decades later admitted to fabricating her testimony regarding her interaction with Emmett.
Said Williams, “I’m honored to be directing the story of Mamie & Emmett: a tale of revolutionary defiance in the face of tremendous personal and public devastation. An exploration of power and pulling back the curtain on cultural violence; of boyhood and maternity challenging America’s reflex to hide from itself; underdogs refusing to pretend that terror is freedom.”
Williams can be seen in the upcoming 15th season of Greys, debuting Sept 27. He also served as a producer and correspondent for the EPIX docuseries America Divided with Norman Lear and executive produced the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement.
Williams, whose forthcoming project slate includes Jacob’s Ladder, a remake to 1990 film, and Random Acts of Violence, starring opposite Jordana Brewster, is repped by CAA, The Movement, Gray, Krauss, Sandler, Des, Rochers, as well as Morris, Yorn.
This is not the only Till project in the works. Earlier this year it was announced that Empire star Taraji P. Henson was attached to star in and produce a film about Emmett Till, with John Singleton directing. In addition, an HBO Emmett Till miniseries was said to be in development back in 2016 with Jay-Z, Will Smith, Casey Affleck, and Aaron Kaplan on board as producers.