Before Trayvon Martin, before Breonna Taylor, before Ahmaud Arbery and before George Floyd, there was Emmett Till.
In recent years, the murders of these black Americans and many others have been fiery sparks propelling the Black Lives Matter movement, culminating in the racial calculations of 2020. But such incidents were preceded decades earlier by another galvanizing crime. : the 1955 kidnapping and murder of Till, 14, in Jim Crow South after being accused of whistling a white woman in a grocery store.
For memory :
8:21 a.m. January 3, 2022An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed a quote to “Women in the Movement” bridging racial lines. It was said by Rev. Wheeler Parker.
This horrific act, and Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley’s determined battle to punish those responsible, was a catalyst for the formation of the civil rights movement that gained national momentum in the 1960s. Many key events in the movement’s history have been examined in documentaries and dramatized by film and television, Till’s murder has not been a focal point of these efforts. The brutality of his death – he was tortured and lynched – and the lingering questions that have hampered the search for justice for years have placed the murder beyond Hollywood’s reach.
ABC is stepping into that void this week with its limited series “Women of Movement”, which sheds new light on Till and his mother. Premiering Thursday and airing for three consecutive weeks, the six-part series is one of the most powerful – and potentially risky – racing projects ever developed by a broadcast network. It also comes at a time when racial tensions are particularly volatile, fueled by the rise of white nationalism and an ongoing debate between those who wish to confront America’s racist past and those who want to play it down.
This context made “Women of the Movement” even more personal and heartfelt for designer and executive producer Marissa Jo Cerar. In a recent Zoom interview, Cerar, whose writing credits include “The Handmaid’s Tale,” got emotional when asked about the project’s relevance to current headlines about racism and the tragic death of black people in the United States. other hands.
“These stories keep happening,” she said, wiping away her tears. “Our people continue to be murdered. It’s so horrible to look at social media and see a certain group of people immediately criminalize the victims. It is devastating. They just see a corpse. They don’t see the light that’s gone out. I want people to see Emmett before he’s a victim or a martyr, just like I hope they could see Trayvon or George Floyd or – there are too many names to list.
Cerar became calmer when she added, “They were babies, they were people, they were members of their community. I just want people to see their humanity.
Adrienne Warren, who plays Till-Mobley, said the time is right for “Women of the Movement,” which reflects Hollywood’s growing awareness and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This shows that our industry is changing,” said Warren, who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of rock icon Tina Turner in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical”. “When has something like this ever aired on network television?” Our industry was not ready for this before. Until very recently, we weren’t allowed to tell these stories in a nuanced way. Guardians open doors for our stories to be told in a way we are presented as human beings. “
Coincidentally, “Women of the Movement” also arrives as the Till Affair returns to the news. The US Department of Justice announced last month that it was closing its investigation into Till’s case, without any charges being laid against Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman whose alleged meeting with Till led to his murder. The department reopened the investigation after a 2017 book quoted Donham as saying she lied about the incident.
The announcement hit Cerar hard: “It was a bit devastating, so close to the premiere. We wonder: what if we had waited another month? Could the show have made a difference or created a different outcome? I’m trying to block it. The more people who learn about Emmett, Granny, and all the other heroes we feature, the better. I hope it opens hearts and minds despite all of this.
Till’s cousin, Reverend Wheeler Parker, told The Times: “I’m not surprised how it came out, but we did what we’re supposed to do, move forward with our purpose and our goal. goal in life. Nothing prevents us from doing it. “
Warren added, “I believe in divine timing. If justice hasn’t been served this way, it now gives us even more platform to make sure this story is told and people know it. “
After Till’s death, his mother ordered his casket to remain open during the funeral. Jet magazine published photos of the teenager’s brutalized body. The reaction to the shocking images proved to be a turning point for the civil rights movement.
In keeping with the weight of its subject matter, ABC puts a lot of weight behind the project. The premiere will air with limited commercial interruptions, and each episode of the week will be followed by an hour-long episode of the ABC News ‘Let the World See’ docuseries, examining the life and activism of Till-Mobley. .
Among those appearing in the docuseries are former First Lady Michelle Obama, rapper Common, Reverend Jesse Jackson and academic writer Michael Eric Dyson. Actress Nia Long (“Love Jones”) will read excerpts from Till-Mobley’s memoir, “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America”.
Executive producers of “Women of the Movement” include Will Smith, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Gina Prince-Bythewood, who directed the opening hour.
Still, Cerar acknowledged that audiences may be hesitant, at least initially, to watch a historical drama about the vicious murder of an innocent black youth. While the deaths of Floyd and others made headlines and sparked protests around the world, a number of scripted projects, including HBO’s “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country,” “Them: Covenant” d ‘Amazon and the Oscar-winning short film “Two Distant Strangers,” about a young black man caught in a deadly time drift with a racist cop, raised questions about when and how the depiction of violence racist falls into the realm of “traumatic pornography”.
“There might be people saying, ‘Do we need to hear about another racially motivated murder?’ ”Cerar said. “What I’m going to ask is that they keep watching.”
She noted that ‘Women of the Movement’ would highlight the emotional and inspirational elements of Till-Mobley’s journey: “It’s not just a murder story or a civil rights story. The only way for me to look at it was to approach it from the mother’s point of view and approach it as a family drama based on a real crime. We get to know people before the tragedy so that we can identify ourselves more. He’s a boy coming of age. It is the maturity of a woman.
Cerar’s knowledge of Till and her story was spotty until she began working as a screenwriter on the Fox drama “Shots Fired” in 2016. Created by Prince-Bythewood and her husband, Reggie Rock Bythewood, the series involved the investigation of a pair of racially charged shootings of North Carolina teens.
Cerar said: “There was a picture of Emmett Till outside the Writers’ Room and we had to walk past it every day. While working on the show, I researched the story. One day, Cassius, the young son of Reggie and Gina, read us his poem about meeting Emmett and Trayvon Martin in Heaven. It was a real turning point for us. ”
Parker said “Women of the Movement” should be viewed as a project that will help bridge racial divisions: “Granny’s prophecy was that Emmett did not die in vain. This show is a step in that direction. He still tells us about the tomb.
“Women of the movement”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday January 6
Evaluation: TV-MA-LV (may not be suitable for children under 17 with warnings for foul language and violence)