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We disagree on Till, which dramatises the events surrounding the infamous lynching of Emmett Till, a black fourteen-year-old boy abducted, tortured, and shot in Mississippi in 1955, and his mother’s decisive actions following the crime, which included having his mutilated body shown in a public funeral service with an open casket, and having brutal photographs of it published in the press. Emmett’s murder and Mamie’s activism forced the USA to confront the reality of its racism and catalysed the civil rights movement – of course, progress made subsequently was not instant and vast racial inequality and injustice is present in the country to this day, but the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 might not have happened if not for the events of nine years prior.
While Till‘s story has often been told and referenced in music, documentary and other media, it’s surprising to say the least that it’s taken this long to be the subject of a major feature film. Perhaps it’s the visceral nature of the case, the importance of the imagery of Emmett’s body that has led to such reticence, and, as José suggests, nervous anticipation of what might be depicted could keep audiences away. That imagery in Till is shocking and upsetting, but the film keeps a tactful eye on what it shows, and refuses to depict Emmett’s torture and murder.
Still, while we agree on the sensitivity and care with which we feel the film handles these crucial elements, we disagree on almost everything else. José sees in Till an intelligent, complex exploration of racism and power structures; Mike finds amateurism in its visual compositions and excess in its orchestral score. It’s a valuable film and one that never indulges in smugness or didacticism, but we refuse to provide a coherent opinion as to whether it’s good or not.
With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.