LOS ANGELES: The film “Till”, tipped for the next Oscars, achieves a tour de force: that of retracing two hours during the assassination in segregationist America of the 1950s of a black teenager, who has become a symbol of the fight for civil rights, without any scene of violence.
A choice claimed loud and clear by its director Chinonye Chukwu, who voluntarily spared the film crew and the public.
At a press conference to promote the film, Ms Chukwu explained that she had “no interest in showing the physical violence inflicted on black bodies”.
“As a black person, I didn’t want to shoot this and I didn’t want to watch this. I didn’t want to inflict this on the public, or traumatize myself again,” she said. “We just don’t need that.”
The feature film, which hits US theaters on Friday, tells the terrible story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black teenager kidnapped, tortured and killed in 1955 in the segregationist state of Mississippi.
Originally from Chicago, the young boy was visiting family members in the southern state and was accused of trying to grope a white woman after whistling her. He was then abducted and his mutilated corpse was found 72 hours later in a river.
The film tells this drama through the eyes of his mother, Grandma, who remained in Chicago.
“I knew that by doing this, it removed the need to show the physical violence inflicted on black bodies”, detailed the director. At the film’s New York premiere in early October, she pointed out that “where the camera focuses is its own act of resistance.”
Of the lynching, the public will therefore only see the moment when the young Emmett is kidnapped at gunpoint, then a shot outside the torture scene, where a few cries of pain allow us to understand what is going on. is.
In recent years, some Hollywood films have been accused of exploiting the suffering of African Americans for profit. The western around slavery “Django Unchained”, directed by Quentin Tarantino without giving up the bloodshed which he loves in the rest of his filmography, for example caused controversy.
Some film critics have also pointed to the propensity of other slavery films like “Harriet” or the multi-Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” to reduce the historical role of black Americans to that of victims.
If he does not film the murder, “Till” shows on the other hand the mutilated body of Emmett, in his coffin remained open.
A must according to Ms. Chukwu: her mother had ordered to show the corpse at the funeral. The photos had entered the dark side of US history, and the event had a significant influence on the civil rights movement.
“It was tricky, but I knew I wanted to do it with tact, while remaining efficient,” said the director.
She also worked sparingly to film the most difficult scenes. Like for example when Grandma, played by actress Danielle Deadwyler, identifies the corpse.
“I said to the team: ‘Listen, we have two takes and that’s it, okay? Try to be as perfect as possible, because what we will capture is what we aura, I don’t do this to Danielle more than twice.”
A psychologist was hired on set to assist the cast and crew.
The film comes out just months after Joe Biden signed a law in March making lynching a federal crime, punishable by 30 years in prison. A text that bears the name of Emmett Till, 66 years after his death.
Present for the signing, the screenwriter of “Till” Keith Beauchamp sees it as a symbol “in halftone”.
“In halftone because it took almost a hundred years to have it adopted,” he told AFP. But “on the other hand it was a victory. Halftone too because we are still fighting for justice to be done to Emmett Till.”
The teenager’s murderers had been acquitted by an all-white jury. Protected by this verdict, these two white men then told a magazine in 1956 how they had killed him. They are now deceased.
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