“TILL”: THE LONG FIGHT FOR JUSTICE

“Till” tells the heartbreaking true story of the 1955 kidnapping, torture, and lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, through the eyes of his mother Mamie Till-Mobley.  Mamie’s decision to hold an open casket funeral for her son, forcing the world to see the abuse he endured, was a major moment in Civil Rights history.  New evidence has emerged in the Emmett Till case as recently as this year, but no one has ever been convicted for his murder.  Joining us to discuss the film is Keith Beauchamp, a producer and co-writer of “Till,” who also directed a documentary on Emmett Till and founded Till Freedom Come Productions, a company devoted to socially significant projects that can both teach and entertain.

Aired on October 20, 2022

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JACK FORD.

ON AUGUST 28, 1955, EMMETT TILL, A 14-YEAR-OLD AFRICAN AMERICAN BOY FROM CHICAGO WAS KIDNAPPED, TORTURED AND MURDERED SIMPLY FOR BEING ACCUSED OF WHISTLING AT A WHITE WOMAN IN THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI.

EMMETT TILL'S MURDER AND THE DECISION BY HIS MOTHER, MAMIE TILL-MOBLEY, TO HOLD AN OPEN-CASKET FUNERAL BROUGHT AN INVIGORATED FOCUS TO THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE UNITED STATES DUE TO THE FACT THAT TILL'S MURDERS WERE NEVER CONVICTED.

EVEN AS NEW EVIDENCE CONTINUES TO EMERGE, NO ONE HAS YET BEEN HELD REALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR EMT EMMETT TILL'S MURDER, AND HIS FAMILY CONTINUES TO SEEK JUSTICE.

A NEW MOVIE CALLED 'TILL', TELLS THE STORY OF THE BRUTAL ATTACK ON TILL AND ITS AFTERMATH THROUGH THE EYES OF HIS MOTHER.

HERE'S A QUICK PREVIEW.

THE FIRST THING I NOTICED WHEN I BECAME A MOTHER WAS THAT MY HANDS WERE BUSY ALL THE TIME.

MY HAND NEW HIM WITH MY EYES CLOSED, JUST LIKE I'D KNOW HIS LAUGHTER IN A CROWDED ROOM.

IT'S THE SAME THING WHEN YOU KNOW ALL OF SOMEONE.

THIS WAS MY BOY.

EMMETT TILL.

THE BODY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL HAS BEEN FOUND DEAD.

CAN I AT LEAST JUST FIX HIM UP A BIT?

NO.

THEY HAVE TO SEE IT FOR THEMSELVES.

YOU TELL ME, MAMIE, HOW IS RISKING YOUR LIFE GOING HELP BO?

THOSE PICTURES OF YOUR SON CHANGED PEOPLE'S LIVES.

I CAN'T LOOK, MAMIE.

WE HAVE TO.

THE LYNCHING OF MY SON HAS SHOWN ME THAT WHAT HAPPENS TO ANY OF US, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD -- HAD BETTER BE THE BUSINESS OF US ALL.

JOINING US NOW TO DISCUSS THIS FILM AND HIS LIFE LONG PURSUIT OF JUSTICE FOR EMMETT TILL IS KEITH BEAUCHAMP.

KEITH IS THE COWRITER AND PRODUCER OF 'TILL' AND THE FOUNDER OF 'TILL FREEDOM COMES PRODUCTIONS.

WELCOME.

WE'RE DELIGHTED TO HAVE YOU WITH US.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

I WANT TO GET TO THIS FILM IN JUST A MOMENT.

BUT I'M VERY CURIOUS ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE ESSENTIALLY DEVOTED MUCH OF OUR ADULT LIFE TO PURSUIT OF JUSTICE FOR EMMETT TILL.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT HIS STORY AND YOUR OWN STORY THAT SO INTERESTED YOU AND INSPIRED YOU?

WELL, THAT'S A GREAT QUESTION.

I HOPE WE HAVE A LITTLE TIME TO SPEAK ON THIS.

WELL, MY INTRODUCTION TO HIM EMMETT TILL HAPPENED WHEN I WAS 10 YEARS OLD.

I WAS IN MY PARENTS' STUDY.

I GREW UP IN BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA.

AND I CAME ACROSS A 'JET' MAGAZINE THAT MY FAMILY KEPT OVER THE YEARS.

AND AS I OPENED THE PAGE, OF COURSE ON ONE SIDE OF THE PAGE THERE'S THIS ANGELIC FACE OF A LITTLE BOY, SORT OF A MIRROR IMAGE OF MYSELF AT THE TIME, AND THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FACE WAS THIS HORRIFIC FACE OF A MONSTER, AND I COULD NOT WRAP MY HEAD AROUND WHAT I WAS ACTUALLY LOOKING AT.

I RECALL MY MOTHER COMING IN AS SHE LOOKS OVER MY SHOULDER, FINDS OUT THAT I DISCOVERED THE PHOTOGRAPH OF EMMETT TILL AND SHE LOOKS AT MY FATHER.

HE COMES IN.

THEY BOTH LOOK AT EACH OTHER, AND SAY, IT'S TIME TELL HIM THE STORY.

THROUGHOUT MY LIFE, THE NAME EMMETT TILL KEPT RESURFACING WHEN I GOT INTO HIGH SCHOOL.

I WAS INTERRACIALLY DATING.

THE FIRST THING MY PARENTS WOULD TELL ME WHEN I LEFT THE HOUSE OF THE NIGHT WAS, KEITH, DON'T LET WHAT HAPPENED TO EMMETT TILL HAPPEN TO YOU.

IT WASN'T UNTIL TWO WEEK BEFORE MY HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION I WOULD HAVE TO SAY I HAD MY REAL FIRST RUN-IN WITH RACISM, AND THAT WAS WHEN I WAS ASSAULTED BY AN UNDERCOVER POLICE OFFICER FOR DANCING WITH A WHITE CLASSMATE OF MINE, AND THAT'S WHAT SPURRED ME TO WANTING TO FIGHT INJUSTICE.

I FELT THE ONLY WAY THAT COULD BE POSSIBLE, IF I BECAME A PART OF THAT SYSTEM.

SO I BEGAN TO STUDY CRIMINAL JUSTICE AT SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY OF BATON ROUGE IN THE HOPE OF BECOMING A CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY.

BUT THEN MY JUNIOR YEAR OF COLLEGE I WAS INTRODUCED TO FILMMAKING BY MY CHILDHOOD FRIENDS.

AND SO THAT'S HOW MY INTRODUCTION AND JOURNEY TO FIGHT FOR EMMETT TILL STARTED, BECAUSE IT WAS AT A COMPANY MEETING.

I WAS ASKED IF THERE WAS A FILM THAT I WOULD WANT TO TELL, A STORY THAT I WANTED TO TELL, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

AND OF COURSE EMMETT TILL WAS FOREMOST IN MY MIND.

AGAIN, BEFORE I GET TO THE THEATERICAL FILM, I MENTION YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN FOR JUSTICE OF EMMETT TILL.

BACK IN 15, A LITTLE BIT MORE YEARS AGO, YOU CREATED A FILM, A DOCUMENTARY CALLED 'THE UNTOLD I HAVE BEEN TEACHING AN UNDERGRADUATE SEMINAR FOR 15 YEARS NOW.

WE STUDY EMMETT TILL.

IT'S ONE OF THE TRIAL WES STUDY, AND MY STUDENTS WALKED THAT DOCUMENTARY.

AWARD WINNING, MARVELOUS STORY TELLING.

SO MY QUESTION TO YOU IS, WHY DID YOU DECIDE NOW TO CONTINUE THIS JOURNEY, CONTINUE THIS JOURNEY OF STORY TELLING, AND TELL EMMETT TILL'S STORY, BUT IN A THEATERICAL SCRIPTED FILM?

I HAVE TO SAY, WHEN I FIRST BEGUN MY JOURNEY TO TELL THE STORY, IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A FEATURE FILM FIRST.

IT ONLY BECAME A DOCUMENTARY BECAUSE I HAD WRITTEN A SCRIPT EARLY ON, EARLY 1995, AND IT WAS OPTIONED OFF BY PRODUCERS WHO WORKED ALONGSIDE OF SHOW TIME.

AND THEY SAT ON THE PROJECT.

I NEVER HAD CONTROL OVER IT.

SO THREE YEARS, I HAD NO CONTROL OF MY OWN WORK.

AND SO WITH THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF MOTHER MOBLEY, EMMETT TILL'S NOBODY, WHO I MET ALONG THIS JOURNEY, OF COURSE, SHE ENCOURAGED ME TO PRODUCE THE DOCUMENTARY IN HOPES WE COULD USE THAT AS A STEPPINGSTONE TO BRING AWARENESS OF THE TILL CASE IN HOPES THAT IT WOULD LEAD TO GETTING JUSTICE.

AND YOU KNOW, I'M JUST THINKING ABOUT IT, BECAUSE IT'S JUST AMAZING HOW GOOD WORKS IN MANY WAYS.

BECAUSE I DID NOT KNOW WHAT WE WOULD ACTUALLY ACCOMPLISH ALONG THIS JOURNEY.

I WAS A YOUNG MAN.

I WAS TRYING TO FIND MY WHAT I IN SOCIETY AND MY NICHE IN SOCIETY.

BUT WITH THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF MOTHER MOBLEY, EMMETT TILL'S MOTHER, WE PRODUCED THIS DOCUMENTARY AND IT LED TO THE RE-OPENING OF THE CASE IN 2005.

I CONSIDER MYSELF AN UNINTENTIONAL FILM MAKER.

I DIDN'T GO TO SCHOOL FOR THIS, BUT ALONG THE WAY I WAS ABLE TO LEARN THAT FILMMAKING IS MY ACTIVISM TOOL THANKS TO MOTHER MOBLEY.

YOU MENTION HER AND THE ROLE, OBVIOUSLY, THAT SHE PLAYED IN THIS, IN OPENING UP THIS STORY, LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY.

YOU OPEN CASKET.

YOU MENTION, IF PEOPLE HAVE NOT SEEN THE PHOTOGRAPH OF THE FACE, IT'S UNRECOGNIZABLE AS A HUMAN BEING, MUCH LESS A 14-YEAR-OLD BOY.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE FOR THIS FILM TO TELL THE STORY THROUGH THE PRISM, IF YOU WILL, OF HIS MOTHER?

THAT'S A GREAT QUESTION.

I MEAN, OVER THE YEARS WE'VE WRITTEN THIS FILM IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS, BUT ULTIMATELY I WANTED PEOPLE TO HAVE THE SAME EXPERIENCE THAT I HAD WHEN I MET EMMETT TILL'S MOTHER.

SHE'S PROBABLY THE MOST PROLIFIC PERSON I WOULD EVER MEET IN MY LIFETIME, AND I WANTED PEOPLE TO HAVE THAT EXPERIENCE, THAT BURST OF INSPIRATION WHEN I MET HER AND HOW SHE SPOKE TO ME.

AND WHEN SHE SPOKE TO ME, HER WORDS MOVED MY SOUL.

AND SO I JUST FIGURED TELLING THE STORY FROM A MOTHER'S PERSPECTIVE AND SHOWING HER RELATIONSHIP WITH HER SON -- I'M A MAMA'S BOY, SO THAT'S -- YOU KNOW, I'M A LITTLE BIASSED IN THE TELLING OF THIS STORY.

SO BEING ABLE TO TELL THIS STORY TO RESURRECT MY NICHE, THAT WAS SOMETHING I WANTED TO DO AND I WANTED THAT TO BE TRANSFERRED TO EVERYONE WHO SEES THE STORY.

I WANTED THEM TO HAVE THAT SAME EXPERIENCE THAT I HAD WHEN I FIRST MET MOTHER MOBLEY.

DID YOU FIND, AS YOU WERE PUTTING THIS FILM TOGETHER AND BRINGING IN ACTORS -- AND YOU HAVE SOME WONDERFUL ACTORS.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG IS IN THERE.

ABSOLUTELY.

THE CAST IS MARVELOUS.

DID YOU FIND THIS WAS SORT OF A JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY FOR SO MANY OF THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN MAKING THE GAME ALSO?

I WOULD HAVE TO SAY YES.

YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS.

FOR 67 YEARS, MANY HAVE TRIED TO PRODUCE A FILM ON TILL AND WERE NOT SUCCESSFUL, UNFORTUNATELY.

HAS A LOT TO DO WITH THE TIMING, HAS A LOT TO DO WITH THE STORY ITSELF, BECAUSE IT DEALT WITH THE SEX AND RACE ISSUE, OR IT DEALS WITH THE SEX AND RACE ISSUE, A PROBLEM WE STILL HAVE TODAY TALKING ABOUT IN THE PUBLIC FORUM.

AND SO MANY TRIED.

MOTHER MOBLEY TRIED.

SHE TRIED IN 1955 AND EVEN 1966 TO TELL THIS STORY ON THE BIG SCREEN.

OF COURSE IT WAS A CHALLENGE BEING ABLE TO WRITE SOMETHING LIKE THIS AND GETTING SOMEONE TO GREEN LIGHT A PROJECT LIKE THIS AFTER SO MANY YEARS.

SO IT WAS DEFINITELY A CHALLENGE FOR ALL OF US WHO WERE INVOLVED, BUT EVERYONE CAME ON BOARD WITH THEIR 'A' GAME, AND THEY WERE READY TO COMMIT TO TELLING THE STORY.

AND IT WAS JUST WONDERFUL TO HAVE LIKE MINDED PEOPLE APART OF THIS PROJECT, BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, IT'S SOMETHING SPIRITUAL HAPPENING HERE.

IT WAS JUST SOMETHING SPIRITUAL AND MAGICAL ON SET THAT WAS OCCURRING.

AND SO I JUST, YOU KNOW, LIKE TO TIP MY HATS OFF TO ALL WHO WERE INVOLVED, BECAUSE I COULD HAVE NEVER THOUGHT IN A MILLION YEARS THAT ANOTHER PART OF MY DREAM -- AND MY PROMISE FULFILLED TO MOTHER MOBLEY WOULD ACTUALLY TAKE PLACE NOW.

THE STORY IS SO COMPELLING.

FOLKS MIGHT KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT IT AFTER THEY SEE THIS FILM.

THEY'LL KNOW MUCH MORE, SOME THINGS I'M NOT GIVING AWAY, BUT AS I SAID IN THE INTRODUCTION, HIS KILLERS, WHO HAD CONFESSED TO KIDNAPPING HIM BUT SAID, OH, WE DIDN'T KILL HIM, AND WHO SUBSEQUENTLY AFTER THEY'RE FOUND NOT GUILTY GET PAID FOR AN INTERVIEW FOR A MAGAZINE AND CANDIDLY ADMIT THEY MURDERED HIM.

NEVER FACED ANY JUSTICE HERE.

SO THE STORY -- PEOPLE ARE GOING TO LEARN THINGS THEY DIDN'T LEARN BEFORE.

BUT I GUESS MY QUESTION TO YOU HERE IS THIS -- YOU AND I COULD TALK FOR HOURS.

BUT MY LAST QUESTION, GOT ABOUT A MINUTE AND A HALF, WHAT DO YOU WANT THE PEOPLE WHO WATCH THIS FILM TO TAKE AWAY FROM IT?

I WANT PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS NOT JUST A MOVIE.

IT'S A MOVEMENT.

IT'S A MOVEMENT TO RECONCILE OUR PAST IN MANY WAYS.

AS YOU STATED, THERE WAS NEVER JUSTICE FOR EMMETT TILL, AND THAT'S SOMETHING WE CONTINUE THE FIGHT FOR EVEN TODAY.

AND IF WE ARGUABLY SAY THAT THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WAS THE GREATEST MOVEMENT EVER PRODUCED BY CITIZENS OF THIS COUNTRY, A MOVEMENT WE CONTINUE TO LONG MORE EVEN DO THIS DAY IN TIME, YOU MUST GO BACK AND UNDERSTAND THE STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL BE THE COURAGEOUS ACTIONS OF HIS DEAR MOTHER TO UNDERSTAND WE MUST DO AS A PEOPLE COLLECTIVELY AROUND THIS COUNTRY TO SEE A -- TO HELP MAKE A NEW MOVEMENT TAKE PLACE.

AND THAT'S WHAT WE NEED IN THIS COUNTRY, BECAUSE AS YOU CAN SEE, WE'RE STILL FIGHTING THOSE SAME SOCIAL ILLS OF OUR PAST.

INTERESTING THAT INVARIABLY, THE REACTIONS OF MY STUDENTS WHEN THEY LEARN THIS STORY IS, HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY HAVE HAPPENED?

AND I THINK MUCH OF YOUR WORK, THE DOCUMENTARY, THE FILM NOW, 'TILL', HOPES TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION, BUT MORE IMPORTANT, HELPS TO MOVE US FORWARD IN AN IMPORTANT DIRECTION.

EMMETT TILL, AS YOU KNOW, OFTEN REFERRED TO AS THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

CAN FILM 'TILL' IS A POWERFUL AND EVOKETIVE FILM.

THANKS FOR SPENDING TIME.

KEITH BEAUCHAMP, SOMEONE WHO'S LIED THEIR LIFE IN PURSUIT OF JUSTICE FOR EMT EM.

TAKE CARE NOW.

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