Untold Story Of Emmett Louis Till (The)
R1 - America - Think Film
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (24th March 2006).
The Film

I held off writing this review for some time now, the reason being is that I wanted to do this topic justice. The Civil Rights movement in the United States was a defining moment in the countryís history. It would forever change the face of the nation and finally bring to light the sentiment and treatment of African-American people. Historically African-Americans were brought to the United States to be used as slave labor for rich industrialists with a whole lot of land, slaves were used for manual labor on plantations, servants that ran the mansions, and just about anything else that the white people really didnít feel like doing or paying someone to do. After the American Civil War slaves were freed, physically yes, but they would not be mentally freed until the late 1960ís. The southern parts of country has a notorious stigma attached to it, housing racists ideals, the home of the KKK, etc, etc. The 50ís-60ís this climate was boiling hot, Ďblack peopleí had no basic rights, they had to sit in the back of buses, use different public facilities, sit in special areas in restaurants and diners. If women are considered at this time second-class citizens then African-American would have been third. When asked about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States most people would likely respond with Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to get off her seat on a bus for White passengers. Many considering this the key note moment of the movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is yet another key figure in the movement and one of those recognizable activists and responsible for the ďI have a dreamĒ speech that has become synonymous with freedom and equal rights for all credos. Malcolm X is yet another figure, more radical than Dr. King but no less important and an iconic figure in his own right. Spike Lee made a film of his life in 1992 with Denzel Washington as the man himself. Like many people my understanding of this moment in history comes from what I was taught at school and seen in documentaries. Itís hard to imagine a racist America, a country that was built on dreams and equal rights and the right to worship no matter what your belief, no matter what your creed. This dream somehow got twisted along the way. Unfortunately the reality of situations always hits hard and the reality is that there was racism rampant in America, it would also be naive to assume itís all but gone today, I wish it was. The fact is that racism was much more open and accepted at one time, when it wasnít really a big thing to string up a black man by his neck for talking back to a white person. Did you know that whistling at a white woman could get you killed if you were black? This is what happened to a teenage boy in 1955 while visiting his relatives in Mississippi.
Emmett Louis Till, a teenage boy from Chicago was visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi during his summer vacation in 1955. Having lived in the North, Till was not familiar with the racial tension in the South, and one day after exiting a store, he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Later in the night, two men came into the house Till was staying at (his Uncleís) kidnapped the boy to Ďteach him a lessoní. The family assumed heíd get a beating and be returned home but what happened was far worse than anticipated. Till was severely beaten, tortured and then murdered, his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River on August 28. After the boyís body was discovered, two men were arrested of the murder; a trial ensued only to have these men acquitted of all charges by an all white jury. 50 years later, this groundbreaking documentary uncovers this little known incident that was the major catalyst for the civil rights movement in the United States. Keith BeauchampĎs film investigates the events that occurred leading up to the murder and the trial. The film includes some archival footage as well as interviews with the Till family. Beauchamp paints a horrific tale of what it meant to be black and living in Mississippi during that time and the tragedy that befell this young man. Spending 9 years of his life dedicated in telling this story, Beauchamp managed to interview Emmettís mother (before she died), relatives as well as reporters that covered the story. The atmosphere of hate was incredible; it feels so much like fiction that itís hard to comprehend all this happened in real life. One moment in particular took me aback, a reported was describing how shopkeepers had donation jars for the defense of the murderers. Emmettís tale is a story that had to be told after having seen darkness for 50 years finally a ray of light has shined on this incident, so much so that because of this filmís findings the Federal Government officially re-opened the case to provide closure. The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till is an important documentary that takes a look at a shameful time in American history, a teenage boy whose death started a revolution.


Presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame ratio this transfer varies in quality mainly due to the different sources for footage. The interview footage is all DV quality, some compression artefacts can be seen but overall the image is sharp and colors are natural. Archival footage varies in condition from average quality to poor however this is hardly the fault of the filmmakers or this transfer. As far as a documentary goes this a fairly decent effort.


Only one soundtrack is available on this release, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, aside from some music this is totally a dialogue driven feature and this track does the job well. Itís clear and distortion free, some dialogue is hard to understand mainly due to the thick southern accents, occasionally the heavier accents are subtitled (burned-in). Thereís nothing particularly special about this soundtrack but it does the job and thatís all we can ask for here.


First up we have a feature-length audio commentary by director Keith Beauchamp. In this track the director takes about the genesis of the project, that lasted 9 years. He reveals the reasons for making this film as well as his motivations in sticking with it for so long. He discusses the interview process with the many subjects including Tillís mother Mamie Till-Mobley who died in 2003 shortly after her interviews where conducted. He also discusses the impact of the event and how this film was instrumental in re-opening the case. Overall itís a fairly dry monotone track that takes some concentration to make it through. Although itís a short film Beauchamp track makes it seem longer than it should be, itís an informative track but is certainly not for everyone.

A featurette follows entitled "The Impact of the Emmett Louis Till Case in American History and Today" which runs for 25 minutes 58 seconds. This clip is a discussion regarding the events that took place on August 28, 1955 as depicted in the film and outlines the social and political context in which these events occurred as well as the contemporary impact of the case on African-American and how these issues are relevant today. Itís a fascinating discussion that provides a wealth of information and makes for a good complimentary supplement to the film.

Two text notes outlining background information for the Harvard Civil Rights Project are also included.

Next up is the filmís original theatrical trailer that runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds, additionally three bonus trailers are also included for:
- "I Love Your Work" which runs for 1 minute 36 seconds.
- "Protocols of Zion" which runs for 1 minute 54 seconds.
- Born into Brothels" which runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Contains a CD-ROM for your computer, compatible with both PC or Mac. The contents are created by The Harvard Civil Rights Project and includes 6 printable lessons as part of an educational guide, these lesson are:
- "Social Studies"
- "Goevernment"
- "Law"
- "Citizenship"
- "African-American Studies"
- "Media"

Rounding out the extras is an insert with letter from the director.


This film includes some decent extras, of which the featurette is a priceless addition. The commentary although informative tends to drag along at a snails pace. Overall Iíd recommend this film as essential viewing.

The Film: A+ Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: A-


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