The filmmaker says Emmett Till’s mother deserves her rightful place in history

Like many black people in America, director Chinonye Chukwu grew up learning the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was brutally murdered in 1955 in Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. But far fewer people know the story of Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley.

Chukwu says Mamie and other black women are often overlooked or erased from history. However, Mamie’s decision to hold her son’s open funeral and publish photos of his mutilated face served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

“Without Mamie Till-Mobley, the world would not know who Emmett Till is,” says Chukwu. “She wanted the world to witness what happened to her child so that it could stop happening to other black children and black people.”

Her new movie, Down, tries to give Mom “her rightful place in history” by telling the story from her point of view. While Emmett’s murder is critical to the narrative, Chukwu deliberately chose not to portray it on screen: “I knew that the physical violence that was inflicted on Emmett was not necessary or an important part of the story I wanted to tell, which was Mom’s journey to becoming an activist as well as love and humanity that existed between her and her child ”.

Down is Chukwu’s third film. Her previous films are Alaskaland and Grace. Grace won the Dramatic Jury Prize in 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival.

The most important information about the interview

About the shooting of disturbing materials and taking care of the actors and the crew on the set

Me and the producers very consciously protected everyone’s mental and emotional well-being. So we had a therapist on set who was available to the cast and crew and was such an invaluable resource to help process our feelings in real time. The parents of the child actors were on set and I wanted them to be as close each day as possible. And when I talk to their children, I also talk to them because they too are part of this journey. …

When we were filming that Emmett kidnapping scene, the actor who plays Emmett, Jalyn, who was 14 at the time, asked after a take or two if we could take a break so he could cuddle from mom and we just threw everything so he could hug from your mom.

When we were filming that Emmett kidnapping scene, the actor who plays Emmett, Jalyn, who was 14 at the time, asked after a take or two if we could take a break so he could cuddle from mom and we just threw everything so he could hug from your mom. And if Jalyn had told me I didn’t want to take any more shots, we wouldn’t have taken any more shots. We are first and foremost human beings. These are just some of the ways we’ve really paid attention to. Also, there were only a few scenes which I limited to two takes because I just didn’t want to go through it, I put my actors at risk many times. So I would say to the crew, “Listen, whatever we get in these shots will be in the film. So let’s make it as good as possible. But then we have to go on. ”

On recreating Till’s dead body for a film using a mold made of actor Jalyn Hall’s body

It was a very shocking process as I read and reread the autopsy reports of what was done to Emmett, looked at the diagrams, carefully examined the photograph, and did some research on what being in the water for three days did with the body. … Actors who interacted with the body, like Danielle and Sean Patrick Thomas, who plays Gene, didn’t see or touch the body until we were ready to shoot the scene. And that’s the first time they saw it on camera.

Reżyserka Chinonye Chukwu rozmawia z aktorem Jalynem Hallem, który gra Emmetta na planie <em>Till</em>. “srcset =”×2997+0+0/resize/1760×1172!/quality/90/?url=https%3A % 2F% 2Fassets% 2Fimg% 2F2022% 2F11% 2F01% 2Ftill-till_12098_r_rgb_custom-ff2e2b1096420eff0d993c6078573afc8c968ba0.jpg 2x “height =. /dims4/default/6f8d2ea/2147483647/strip/true/crop/4500×2997+0+0/resize/880×586!/quality/90/? %2F11%2F01%2Ftill-till_12098_r_rgb_custom-ff2e2b1096420eff0d993c6078573afc8c968ba0.jpg” loading=”lazy” bad-src=”data:image/svg+xml;base64,PHN2ZyB4bWxucz0iaHR0cDovL3d3dy53My5vcmcvMjAwMC9zdmciIHZlcnNpb249IjEuMSIgaGVpZ2h0PSI1ODZweCIgd2lkdGg9Ijg4MHB4Ij48L3N2Zz4=”/></p>
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Lynsey Weatherspoon / Orion Pictures


Orion Pictures

Director Chinonye Chukwu speaks with actor Jalyn Hall who plays Emmett on set Down.

On Mamie Till-Mobey’s Private and Public Discovery

One of the great things I learned that Danielle Deadwyler, the actress who played Mamie, and whom I talked a lot about, was the complex negotiations she had to conduct between her public and private self, her presentation, and who she was privately. . He navigates many different types of masks that he must wear as a black woman in the world, a black woman in America. For example, when she goes to Mississippi for a trial and it is in this mostly white, hostile space, and is very aware of these gazes and of her presentable personality in that space, compared to who she is when she is all alone, compared to to who he is when he is with his child as opposed to when he is with his partner, Gene, family etc. etc. There are such constant negotiations that he has to conduct.

There is a scene in the movie where Mamie talks to Huff, who is an NAACP attorney, and basically checks it out, and it’s based on how she thinks people will come to her, how she thinks the media will come upon her. . Wanting to make sure she was ready to face this and the kind of racist, sexist negotiations Mamie would have to go through, the angry black woman stereotype, the Jezebel stereotype and the kind of guarding her body language and the way she she looks. And it is all absolutely what I and so many black women around the world continue to follow in our lives to this day. And actually, I really felt like this for Mom.

How the movie shows the trial of men accused of Till’s murder but omits the acquittal verdict

I really wanted the narrative to be as much as possible from Mom’s point of view, from her perspective. And so she left before the verdict was announced, because she already knew what the verdict would be. And also the ending of the movie does not apply to the verdict. One of the things Dr. TRM Howard – an underestimated civil rights hero in my opinion – asked Mom during her trial during her visit to Mississippi, is, “What work are you going to do, whatever the verdict? ? “Because there is still a lot to do and we cannot place all our hopes on justice, progress and change in the verdict that will decide under the system that is set against you. to make the arc of this movie? And it can’t end with a verdict. It’s about much more. And Mamie comes to this in her own movie, which prompts her to quit and continue being an activist in the world because there is so much work to be done.

Lauren Krenzel and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it to the web.

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