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.
On film, 3 years ago, directors Aravind Ragupathi and Rob Underhill, joined playwright/actor Mike Wiley, to produce a film reenacting the conversation between journalist William Bradford Huie and the white two men acquitted for the boy’s murder.
Wiley, who’s black by the way, convincingly plays all 3 characters (in fact he plays every character in the film, regardless of race) in an acting tour de force.
The film, titled, "DAR HE: The Lynching of Emmett Till," traveled the film festival circuit successfully. It’s on home video now (visit its Facebook page for more info).
Another film that was in the works in 2012, from DeShaun Davis, titled "55 Till Now," was to center on Till’s 1955 murder – specifically, as the title suggests, its aftermath.
The independent docudrama was to star Jonah Lampkin as Till, but since we first profiled the project, when it was still in production, there has been no news of any progress. Out last post says that it was set for release in November 2012, but it doesn’t look like that happened. Both its Facebook and Twitter pages haven’t been updated since late 2012. If I learn anything about its whereabouts from the filmmaker, I’ll update this post.
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; and "The Murder of Emmett Till," produced and directed by award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, which aired on PBS in 2003, and won numerous awards.
Currently there are 3 new Emmett Till films in the works to add to the above – all 3 will be scripted, not documentaries; The first, announced in early May of this year, will be produced by the late Roger Ebert’s wife Chaz Ebert, which will be 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.
It’s still early in development, and there’s no director, writer or cast attached to the project yet; although shooting is scheduled to start next year in the Mississippi Delta area, and Illinois.
The second Till feature film, announced in late May at the Cannes Film Festival, 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”) is 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, which will be based on a book co-written by Emmett Till’s mother, 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 is set for an early 2016 shoot in Chicago and Mississippi.
And finally, a third project, announced this evening, has been set up at HBO as a miniseries, from a producing team that includes Will Smith, Jay-Z and Aaron Kaplan. Currently in active development, according to Deadline, the series is described as "an immersive and in depth exploration of the Emmett Till story."
A writer is being sought to script what is expected to be a 6-hour miniseries for HBO. No other details are available at this time.
Which of these unmade Emmett Till projects will cross the finish line first?
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the the brutal crime, which might explain the renewed interest in telling that story on film – one that has rightfully been called "the hate crime that changed America" and in fact sparked the Civil Rights movement.