‘Till’s Chinonye Chukwu On Using “Care And Honor” To Tell Emmett Till’s Story And Danielle Deadwyler’s Understanding Of Mamie Till-Mobley – Contenders LA3C

Till co-writer/director Chinonye Chukwu joined Deadline’s Contenders Film: LA3C awards-season event to talk about the importance of making the film, creating a safe space on set, and casting Danielle Deadwyler.

Till tells the powerful story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s relentless fight for justice after her 14-year-old son Emmett Till was lynched in rural Mississippi while visiting his cousins in 1955. The drama from Orion Pictures, MGM Pictures and United Artists Releasing stars Deadwyler as Mamie and Jalyn Hall as Emmett. Rounding out the ensemble is Whoopi Goldberg, Sean Patrick Thomas and Frankie Faison.

RELATED: Deadline’s The Contenders LA3C: Full Coverage

One of the biggest challenges for Chukwu in helming an all-Black cast while navigating them through this monumental story in the civil rights movement was ensuring everyone felt safe to be vulnerable.

“[I made] sure to protect the emotional well-being of cast and crew, and also myself. I was hyper-aware of everybody else making sure that everybody had what they needed in order to go to the places of vulnerability that they needed to go to.” Chukwu said. “That was a challenge at times, just compartmentalizing, you know, because I have a job to do, but I’m also human, you know, and, and on top of that, I’m a Black woman, and there are parts of the story that are triggering and that, we all had to make sure that we do our job, but how do we also protect the person that’s doing that job?”

One of the most harrowing scenes in the film is that of Mamie’s brave decision to hold a five-day open-casket funeral, where she could display the horrors done to her son’s body, so the country could understand the brutal harm and injustices caused by white supremacy. Chukwu explained how she decided to approach the scene with care.

“The question for me as a director was not whether or not to show Emmett’s body, but it was how do we do it? Because I knew that we had to show his body as an extension of Mamie’s decision and to honor that decision she made,” she said. “So, my approach directorially was to do so in a humanizing way as opposed to the camera taking a voyeuristic lens. So, when we’re in the scene in the funeral home, where Mamie is looking at Emmett’s body, his body is obstructed for the beginning part of that scene because it is about Mamie’s emotional experience in that private moment of reconnection with her son as opposed to objectifying that experience. And then it’s only as Mamie is looking at his body that the camera moves in closer and we’re looking at his body through Mamie’s loving lens. That was a way of not exploiting that decision, but it is showing that decision with care and honor.”

Chukwu also praised Deadwyler’s sensitive and diligent approach to the role of Mamie by explaining the innate emotional verve the actress carried with her from the beginning in the audition room.

“When I cast lead actors in my films, one of the things I look at is, can they communicate a story with just their eyes? I knew that the person who plays Mamie needed to be able to hold and command a frame without saying a word. And you know, Danielle sent in a self-tape and checked those boxes.” Chukwu said. “But I called her back for a director session just so I could work with her on some of harder scenes…there are a lot of emotional and psychological beats in that scenes that make up Mamie’s arc; Danielle knocked it out of the park. She had such an inherent emotional and psychological understanding of who Mamie Till was.”

Check back Wednesday for the panel video.

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