The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (IMDB) revisits the murder of African-American Chicago teenager Emmett Till and the travesty of a trial that acquitted Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam, who later confessed to the murder in Look magazine, of all charges. While director Keith Beauchamp relies primarily on talking-heads interviews with family members and friends of Till, inlucing his mother who passed away just before the film was completed, he also makes extensive use of news footage and photographs from the weeks immediately after the murder. At the same time, Beauchamp uses Till’s story, including some powerful interview footage with Al Sharpton, to reflect on the terrible effects of the Jim Crow laws.

Certainly the most effective interveiws were those conducted with Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who graphically describes her experience of first seeing her son’s body and describing the degree to which his face had been mutilated. Roger Ebert explains the power of this scene rather well. Till-Mobley also explains her decision to display her son’s body in an open casket during the funeral, forcing the public to confront the racism that contributed to her son’s murder. As many reviewers have noted, her decision, which must not have been an easy one, clearly contributed to a growing civil rights movement here in the United States.

While Untold Story may seem like a relatively standard historical documentary, its most important purpose is that it serves as a reminder about this part of America’s past. The preservation of important voices like Mamie Till-Mobley’s is an important task, especially as many of the important contributors to the Civil Rights movement and many of the poeple who remember the Jim Crow era begin to age and pass away. The film has also contributed to a renewed effort to see several of those involved in the murder and cover-up prosecuted for their crimes (the Voice review has some more information on this case and offers a useful explanation for the “choppiness” in the final third of the film).

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