The Untold Story Of Emmett Louis Till

The title's promise that Keith Beauchamp's documentary about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till will reveal an "untold" side of the story is misleading: Due to the U.S. Justice Department's recently reopened investigation of the crime — a decision sparked in part by Beauchamp's film — very little of what he uncovered during the 10 years he spent researching...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The title's promise that Keith Beauchamp's documentary about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till will reveal an "untold" side of the story is misleading: Due to the U.S. Justice Department's recently reopened investigation of the crime — a decision sparked in part by Beauchamp's film — very little of what he uncovered during the 10 years he spent researching and interviewing subjects actually appears in the movie. Nevertheless, Beauchamp reconstructs the actual crime with disturbing immediacy, and his treatment of how Till's death galvanized a country makes this short film a good way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a crime that still has the power to outrage. On Aug. 20, 1955, Emmett Till, a smiling, 14-year-old from Chicago, kissed his mother goodbye and joined his cousin, Curtis Jones, on a train bound for Mississippi, where they planned on spending time with relatives. After a day of playing in the fields where his cousins picked cotton, Emmett joined them on a trip into the small town of Money, where they made a brief stop at Bryant's Grocery store to buy candy. When Mrs. Carolyn Bryant exited the store not long after, Emmett did something that was downright unthinkable for a black man do to a white woman in the Deep South of the '50s: He whistled at her. Emmett's cousins — including Simeon Wright and Wheeler Parker, both of whom are interviewed here — hustled Emmett back to his great-uncle Mose Wright's house and hoped for the best, but four nights later, the inevitable fallout hit with savagery no one could have anticipated. In the early-morning darkness, Carolyn Bryant's husband, Roy, and his half brother, J.W. Milam, knocked on Wright's door and, with pistol in hand, searched each room until they found Emmett. Dragging him out of bed and into their truck, Bryant and Milam took off for what Wright thought would be a brutal whipping, but nothing more. Three days later, Emmett's body was found in the Tallahatchie River, lashed to a heavy gin fan with barbed wire, his head and face so badly battered that the body could only be identified by the ring Emmett wore. As shocking as it was, the lynching of Emmett Till would not have had such an impact if it were not for the courageous actions of his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, who demanded that her son's body be returned to Chicago for an open-coffin viewing where the brutality could be displayed for all to see. Beauchamp's nagging hints that much of the Emmett Till story remains to be told, and his inclusion of confusing interviews with people who have been subsequently connected to the crime, only makes his film feel more like an unfinished rough cut. Other eyewitness accounts, however, and Beauchamp's interviews with Mrs. Till Mobley, who died in 2003, help make the rest of this film an important contribution to an oral history of the civil rights movement.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The title's promise that Keith Beauchamp's documentary about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till will reveal an "untold" side of the story is misleading: Due to the U.S. Justice Department's recently reopened investigation of the crime — a decision sparked… (more)

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