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The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till
The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till
Director: Keith A. Beauchamp
Genres: Documentary, African American Cinema
PG-13     2006     1hr 10min

In August 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley of Chicago sent her only child, 14 year-old Emmett Louis Till, to visit relatives in the Mississippi Delta. Little did she know that only 8 days later, Emmett would be abducted from his G...  more »


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Movie Details

Director: Keith A. Beauchamp
Genres: Documentary, African American Cinema
Sub-Genres: Biography, African American Cinema
Studio: Velocity / Thinkfilm
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 02/28/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/2005
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2005
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 10min
Screens: Black and White,Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

The story of the murder and funeral that galvanized the Civi
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 07/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It was in August of 1955 that 15-year-old Emmett Till was sent from Chicago by his mother to spend the summer with his great uncle, Moses Wright, in Money, Mississippi. On August 24, Till and some other black teenagers who had been picking cotton went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market to get some candy. In the store Till allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant. When her husband returned from a trip several days later and heard about the incident, Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam decided to "teach the boy a lesson." On August 28, they kidnapped Till from his uncle's house, too him to a plantation shed, brutalized the boy, shot him, and dumped his body in the Tallahatchie river, having tied a seventy pound fan from a cotton gin around Till's neck with barbed wire. The two men were tried and found not guilty by an all-white jury. In January 1956 their confession was paid for and published by "Look" magazine. Both men would die from cancer, Milam in 1980 and Bryant in 1990.

I do not remember when I first heard of Emmett Till, but the story of the black teenager who was killed by white men in Mississippi for the crime of whistling at a white woman was a pivotal event in energizing the Civil Rights Movement and I have known about it for a long time. However, I never saw a photograph of Emmett Till's body until I was at the Seattle Art Museum looking at an exhibit having to deal with depictions of race and gender in art, and there was a small photograph of Till's body on display at his funeral. The photograph was too small to tell any details, but you were struck by the swollen and misshaped head. It did not look human, but then to Milam and Bryant, Emmett Till was never a human being.

The title of Keith A. Beauchamp's documentary is "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till," not because the story has not been told, but because the people he interviewed, including Till's mother, Mamie Carthan Mobley, along with several cousins and friends from that summer in Mississippi, never had a chance to tell their story in court. Beauchamp provides them with that opportunity, using newsreel footage from 1955 as well. It follows the chronology of events, from Till's birth to the present and Beauchamp's own investigations into the case (his chief claim is that up to 14 other people were involved in the crime in various ways). For just telling the story and covering the facts, Beauchamp keeps things pretty basic in his documentary, letting people speak for themselves.

The most unforgettable part of the documentary is when Mobley tells the story of getting her son's body back home. Officials in Mississippi wanted to bury the body before anybody got a good look at it and when Mobley managed to get it back to Chicago the coffin was nailed shut. But she got it opened and then describes what it was she saw in simple and graphic details, emphasizing not the horrors but the child she remembered (e.g., she smiles as she talks about how she thought Emmett's teeth were the most beautiful things she had ever seen and then remembering seeing only two of them and wondering where the rest of them were). It is only after Beauchamp lets her tell of the pivotal point where she decides to leave the casket open at the funeral so the world can see what was done to her son in Mississippi that we go from a school photograph of a smiling Emmett Till to the wrecked ruin of his face and head. This is the most disturbing image from the Civil Rights movement, but that is exactly why it is the most important one and why its publication in "Jet" was an important catalyst. You really cannot tell the story unless you look at the photograph, and teachers who want to show this documentary to their students should be prepared to defend their decision.

In addition to Mobley, it is Moses Wright, who stood up in court and pointed to the two white men who came and took away Till (there is a photograph of the dramatic moment), who stands out here. But it strikes me that somebody who is not mentioned by name, William Bradford Huie, played a key role as well. A journalist and author ("The Americanization of Emily," "The Klansman"), Huie was often criticized by mainstream journalists for using his checkbook to get stories. But it was Huie who paid the murderers to confess in a national publication five months later. A follow up story revealed that the businesses of Milam and Bryant had gone under because they were ostracized by local whites. I am sure this did not happen because of the murders, which clearly the jury representing the town supported, but because of the published confession that took away the thin veneer provided by the not guilty verdict.

This documentary received a lot of publicity because it fueled an effort to reopen the case. The U.S. Department of Justice did reopen the case to determine whether others in addition to Milam and Bryant were involved. The F.B.I. and Mississippi officials worked on a joint investigation, and while Till's body was exhumed so an official autopsy could be performed, the federal investigation was closed in March of this year. Consequently, justice in this case will not result in anybody ending up in jail, but rather with preserving the testimony of these witnesses for posterity (Till's mother died after the documentary was completed). Carolyn Bryant (now Donham after her fourth husband) is still alive and living in Greenville Mississippi. Signs in her front yard warn that uninvited visitors will be prosecuted, an apparent indication that she believes the law in Mississippi continues to protect her a lot more than it ever did Emmett Till."
Life And Death In The Delta
Monica D. Affleck | Philadelphia,, Pennsylvania United States | 02/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This Documentary was well done, based on the 1955 brutal lynching of 14 year old Emmett Louis Till, an African American teenager just trying to have a good time with his family and friends. Until he whistled at a white woman, Carolyn, wife of Roy Bryant, Sister-n-Law of J. W. Milam. These 2 men were accused and aquitted of the heinous crimes that took Emmett Till's young life. This is true crime and is well worth the money, watching this film has made me cry for the family of Emmett, it was devastating to watch how the Mississippi court system back in 1955 let 2 animals go after admitting they kidnapped and murdered someone. How gruesome. Emmett Louis Till deserved what any other person deserved, to live and love, instead his life was cut short. This is very painful to watch. Emmett's Mother, Mrs. Mobley, was such an inspiration, her words touched me, she was a wonderful woman.
This is a must-see film, it is always a good idea to see history so we do not forget what "civilized" man is capable of. This unfortunate young man's death sparked the Civil Rights Movement. It hurts me to know what others can do to each other. See this film for yourself. Thank you."
Excellent Documentary
Dorrie Wheeler | 02/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If you think you know everything about the Emmett Louis Till case, think again. Young film maker Keith A. Beauchamp spent years conducting interviews and doing research in support of his documentary film The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. As you may know, Emmett was a young boy from Chicago who went down south to Mississippi to visit relatives. During his visit he whistled at a white woman outside of a store and days later he was brutally beaten and murdered. Emmett's murder caused a huge shift in the struggle for civil rights. His case also African Americans to protest and strike out against lynchings.

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till is the best documentary every produced about the Emmett Till case. What makes this documentary unique is the first person interviews Beauchamp scored for the film. These never before seen interviews in conjunction with archive footage paint a picture of the events surrounding Till's murder and the case afterwards that has never been seen. The interviews with Mamie Till-Mobley are excellent. She remembers with so much detail the events leading up to Emmett's murder and the struggle that she went through after the muder and during the trial. The film also includes interview footage of the brother of Medgar Evars, Emmett's cousins, Reverend Al Sharpton and more. It's a great film and it's captivating. The DVD includes a directors commentary and a featurette titled "The Impact of the Emmett Till Case in American History and Today." This film is so special it should be used in ever Black American Studies program and every African-American family should own a copy of this film. Many people feel like lynching and racism are far in the past, but watching this film will make people realize that what happened 51 years ago is an important part of not only African-American history but American history.
A Gripping Documentary
Daren McGregor | Mount Vernon, NY USA | 01/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"For the August of 1955, Mamie Till-Mobley of Chicago sent her son Emmett Louis Till to the Mississippi Delta to visit friends and family. Eight days after his arrival, Emmett was abducted from his Great Uncle's home by a group of white men for allegedly whistling at a white woman at a convenience store. Emmett was brutally beaten and murdered, the violent act epitomizing the virulent racism of the time. When two of the men involved were put to trial, the all-white jury acquitted them in less than an hour. Outraging many of the leaders in the black community, the murder and subsequent trial served as the catalyst for the entire American civil rights movement. The symbol of this act is the mangled face of Till, shown by the mother at his open-casket funeral. While her decision was controversial, her reason was simple: "I want the world to see what they did to my son.".

I have had the great pleasure of hearing Mr. Beauchamp speak about his documentary, and I can truly say that he put a great deal of work and effort into it. The documentary is not told with narration, as instead Mr. Beauchamp uses interviews with eyewitnesses, family members, and historians to tell the story. The documentary provides a concise view of the murder with the first-hand accounts, and while it does not bombard the viewer with biases or Mr. Beauchamp's personal views, it does evoke a clear message about racism back then as well as today, due to the lessons that can be learned. Mr. Beauchamp's thoughtful documentary serves as a brilliant reminder of the consequences that feelings of racism and hate can bring."