August 28, 1955, Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, is abducted from his uncle’s home in Money, Mississippi. Two white men – Roy Bryant Jr. and J. W. Milam – seize Till after he supposedly whistled at a white woman, and days later, he’s found brutally murdered, his body mutilated. An all-white jury would eventually acquit the two men of the crime. Although they would later confess in a paid interview with journalist William Bradford Huie, for Look magazine.
Exactly 8 years later, August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. (who called Till’s murder “one of the most brutal and inhuman crimes of the twentieth century”), led The March on Washington – one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history, calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans. It took place in Washington, D.C., where, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, advocating racial harmony.
Three months and three days after Emmett Till’s body was pulled from the Tallahatchie, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.
Currently there are 3 Emmett Till films in the works – all 3 will be scripted, not documentaries; The first, announced in May of 2015, will be produced by Chaz Ebert, based on the book, “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America,” co-written by Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (who passed away in 2003), and journalist Christopher Benson.
No word on the project’s status at this time; although it was scheduled to start production this year in the Mississippi Delta area, and Illinois.
The second Till feature film, announced in late May at the Cannes Film Festival, also in 2015, will be based on the play, “The Face of Emmett Till.”
Skyland Pictures and FireRock Bay Pictures are behind the project, which James Moll (“The Last Days”) was attached to direct, from a script penned by David Barr III and David Scott Hay, who are also co-producing. And just like the Chaz Ebert project, the play that this film will be based on, was also co-written by Till’s mother, the late Mamie Till-Mobley, along with David Barr III.
“The Face of Emmett Till” is a true-to-life dramatization of the death of Till and the aftermath. The film adaptation was set for an early 2016 shoot in Chicago and Mississippi.
No updates at this time.
And finally, a third project, announced last summer, set up at HBO as a miniseries, hails from a producing team that includes Will Smith, Jay Z and Aaron Kaplan. Currently in active development, the series is described as “an immersive and in depth exploration of the Emmett Till story.”
Today, writer/director Steven Caple Jr. has been tapped to script the project, which will be a 6-hour miniseries for HBO.
If Caple’s name sounds familiar, it might be because his feature film debut, “The Land,” which premiered at the Sundannce Film Festival this year, has been covered on this blog since then. It would eventually be acquired by IFC Films, and released (in a limited theatrical and on VOD) in July.
“The Land” follows 4 teenage boys who devote their summer to pursuing their dreams of becoming professional skateboarders, but when they get caught in the web of the local queenpin, their brotherhood is tested, disrupting their summer plans, and potentially more.
The film’s cast includes Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Moises Arias, Rafi Gavron, Ezri Walker, Erykah Badu, and Michael K. Williams.
Nasir “Nas” Jones curated the film’s soundtrack, and also executive produced the project.
And with today’s news, the Will Smith/Jay Z Emmett Till project just may be the first of the 3 to make it to a screen near you.
Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the brutal crime, which might explain renewed interest in telling that story on film (all 3 projects were announced last year, within a few months of each other) – a tragedy that has rightfully been called “the hate crime that changed America” and in fact sparked the Civil Rights movement.
Past films on Till’s story that are currently available for you to watch right now are: “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” a 2005 documentary directed by Keith Beauchamp; “The Murder of Emmett Till,” produced and directed by award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, which aired on PBS in 2003, and won numerous awards; and “DAR HE: The Lynching of Emmett Till,” the 2012 docu-drama from directors Aravind Ragupathi and Rob Underhill, joined playwright/actor Mike Wiley, who convincingly plays every character in the film, regardless of race and gender, in an acting tour de force.