“Till”: This touching film shows part of America’s racist history | Ignition radio | Bavaria 2 | radio

“Till” begins the way we know films from the 1950s: Cheerful, colourful, plush, a bit stuffy. We see the everyday life of Mamie Till-Mobley and her son Emmett Till. After her father died in the war, Mamie got a job as a secretary and has lived a modestly prosperous life in Chicago ever since. Her 14-year-old son Emmett is a popular and outgoing boy. Director Chinonye Chukwu manages to make you fall in love with both of them after just ten minutes of the film. In general, “Till” works very well on an emotional level, because the facts have long been part of American history.

scene from the movie "Till" | Bild: picture-alliance/dpa

Emmett and his mother

Young Emmett – known as Bo – is invited by his uncle’s family for a summer vacation to his mother’s old homeland, Mississippi, in the American South. Mamie agrees, but has been plagued by worries ever since and reminds her son the night before they leave that life is different for black people in the South.

Torture, murder and a memorial service steeped in history

Emmett experiences the South as a strange world. Coming from cosmopolitan Chicago, he doesn’t realize how harshly and mercilessly the division between skin colors is still being enforced down South. Emmet approaches a white woman and whistles at her. And is that – we learn a little later – his death sentence. Just the indignation that the woman displays afterwards is highly disconcerting for a modern-day viewer. But Chinonye Chukwu also succeeds in depicting the entire presumption of superiority of the whites at this time.

In any case, Emmet “Bo” Till is tortured by two white men, murdered and then thrown into a river – all the severe abuse can be seen on his battered body. His deeply shaken mother in Chicago decides to take an unusual step. At the funeral, she wants to show everyone what was done to her son.

“Bo is in no condition to be seen. – No, he is in just the right condition for it”

Mamie Till-Mobley

scene from the movie "Till" | Bild: picture-alliance/dpa

Emmett Till is laid out in an open coffin – and not only the mourners in Chicago, but also the American public of the time and the viewers of this film can see how far racist violence can go. The film’s focus remains on Mamie Till as she develops into a human rights activist and prepares to testify at the Mississippi court hearing against the now-identified perpetrators. The film will never really show us the faces of the murderers, the camera pans past them, because here – the director tells us – it’s about the victims.

Even if many advise her against: In the end, Mamie Till travels to Mississippi and makes her statement. She tells of the admonitions to her son, but she also makes clear the difference between love and hate.

“I always raised him with love, for fourteen years. I guess my warnings that he would be hated didn’t get through to him.”

Mamie Till-Mobley

In fact, the audience in the courtroom still doesn’t seem to see what Mamie Till has a problem with. So ingrained does racism seem to be in the Southern States in 1955 that even a lynching is not considered a hate crime, but rather something that may happen at some point.

In addition to the emotion that “Till” inevitably evokes, this is an equally important effect of this film: Namely, to learn that almost 70 years ago – Elvis was already in the charts – you could commit murder and admit it without being punished for it afterwards .

After decades of attempts, lynching has been branded an official hate crime in the United States. The so-called “Emmett-Till Antilynching Act” was only passed by Congress in 2022.