Chinonye Chukwu’s next project will revisit a tragic, and galvanizing, moment in American history. According to Deadline, the “Clemency” filmmaker has signed on to direct a feature about Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Black boy who was tortured and lynched by two white men in 1955. The project will also center on his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, and her determination to obtain justice for her son, which helped spur the civil rights movement.
Till, a Chicago native, was visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, when he was abducted, tortured, and shot in the back of the head by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. His body was then thrown into the Tallahatchie River. Emmett’s killers believed he had flirted with Bryant’s wife. They were acquitted by an all-white jury and later admitted to the murder, knowing that double jeopardy would shield them from punishment.
Mobley helped revitalize the civil rights movement by demanding an open-casket funeral for her son — she wanted “the world to see what they did to [her] baby.” Tens of thousands of people viewed Emmett’s body, and pictures of his casket and funeral were circulated across the country. Mobley also shared the story of her son on a successful NAACP tour.
Chukwu wrote the as-yet-untitled film with documentarian Keith Beauchamp and Michael J P Reilly. It is based on Beauchamp’s extensive research and his relationship with Mobley and Simeon Wright, a relative of Till’s who witnessed his kidnapping. “For more than 27 years, Beauchamp has investigated the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Emmett Till, allegedly for whistling at a white woman,” the source details. “His efforts succeeded in getting the United States Department of Justice to reopen the case in 2004.”
Production on the film is expected to take place next year, coinciding with Till’s 80th birthday. Whoopi Goldberg and James Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli are producing.
“I am deeply honored to be telling this story and working with such an incredible producing team,” Chukwu said. “Amidst the pain and brutality that is inherent to Mamie and Emmett’s story, I intend to delve deeply into their humanities, the love and joy they shared, and the activist consciousness that grows within Mamie as she seeks justice for her son.”
“Today the return of open racism reminds us that the real danger is in not telling Emmett Till’s story,” Goldberg added. “Chinonye Chukwu taking the helm as our director is an opportunity for us to step forward artfully and without fear to tell the truth. We could not be in better hands.”
“I’m truly excited that we are teaming up with Chinonye to tell this powerful story,” Beauchamp remarked. “With Emmett Till’s name being spoken today among Black Lives Matter chants, it is more important than ever to understand why this senseless murder took place and the selfless actions taken by my dear friend Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley that led to the mobilization of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement.” He said, “This isn’t a movie, it’s a movement.”
The push to pass the “Emmett Till Antilynching Act” was renewed in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and subsequent protests. It has overwhelming support in Congress, but Senator Rand Paul has stalled it.
Till’s original casket is now housed in the Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture. Mobley died in 2003 at the age of 81.
Chukwu became the first Black woman to win Sundance’s Grand Jury prize with “Clemency,” the portrait of a morally conflicted prison warden who oversees executions. She’s attached to helm the first two episodes of “Americanah,” HBO Max’s Lupita Nyong’o-starring adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-seller. Chukwu’s other credits include “alaskaLand” and “Sorry for Your Loss.”