President Biden, first lady to screen ‘Till’ at the White House; movie tells Emmett Till story

Invitees to the Thursday screening include the cast of the film, the family of Emmett Till, students, civil rights leaders, historians and families of victims of hate crimes.

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President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will screen “Till” at the White House on Thursday. Jalyn Hall, left, stars as Emmett Till and Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till-Mobley.

Lynsey Weatherspoon / Orion Pictures

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden don’t screen a lot of movies at the White House.

But they will see a movie on Thursday.

They are intending to send a “strong message” during Black History Month about hate crimes when they view “Till,” the powerful story about the lynching of Chicago’s Emmett Till, whose death at age 14 helped spark the modern civil rights movement.

The movie, released last year, tells the story about Till’s lynching on Aug. 28, 1955, while visiting family in Mississippi and how and why it became a turning point in civil rights history.

In an era before ubiquitous iPhone videos, police body cams and omnipresent street cameras providing evidence of brutality, Till’s mother made a crucial decision that led people to see that Till was a victim of lynching.

He was kidnapped from the home of a family member for allegedly whistling at a white woman. History.com recounts that Till’s “assailants — the white woman’s husband and his brother — made Till carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the banks of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head and then threw his body, tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire, into the river.”

Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket for his funeral at Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State St., so the world could see Till’s mutilated body and witness the deadly results of race-based violence.

As Sun-Times movie critic Richard Roeper noted in his review of “Till,” the opening sequences are set in Chicago (though the movie was filmed in Atlanta) and “we see how Mamie dotes on her 14-year-old son Emmett (Jalyn Hall), whether they’re singing along to doo-wop on the car radio or engaging in playful banter in the cozy living room of the apartment on S. St. Lawrence Avenue, with Mamie’s mother Alma (Whoopi Goldberg) and her boyfriend Gene (Sean Patrick Thomas) adding to the overall feeling of a warm and happy family.”

Until, that is, Till was tortured and killed.

The “Till” screening takes place during Black History Month, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted at the Tuesday briefing.

Calling it an “incredibly powerful movie,” Jean-Pierre said, “I think that’s important that we are doing this at the White House. ... We haven’t actually screened many movies, so the fact that we’re doing this in this month, I think sends a strong message from the President and from this White House, from the first lady, how important we think it is to lift this movie up and to make sure that his story continues to be told and not forgotten.”

The Grio’s April Ryan reported that among those invited to the screening are high school students from Chicago and the state of Mississippi.

The White House told the Chicago Sun-Times the invitees “include cast of the film, the family of Emmett Till, students, civil rights leaders, historians and families of victims of hate-fueled violence.”

Last March, at a ceremony on the South Lawn, with members of the Till extended family present, Biden signed The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, after former Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., pushed to pass the measure for years. The new law defines lynching as a federal hate crime for the first time — and finally passed after Congress ignored race-related hate crimes for decades. Freshman Rep. Jonathan Jackson, D-Ill., who replaced Rush and represents parts of Chicago’s South Side, told the Sun-Times he plans to attend the screening.

In September, Biden hosted the United We Stand Summit to, the White House said, “honor the resilience of communities who are healing from hateful attacks, including mass shootings, from Oak Creek to Orlando, Charleston, Pittsburgh, El Paso, Atlanta, Buffalo, and beyond.”

Till’s story is currently the subject of a play produced by Chicago’s Collaboraction Theatre, “Trial in the Delta: The Murder of Emmett Till,” at DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, 740 E. 56th Place.

Said Jean-Pierre, when Biden “walked into this administration, you’ve heard me say this many times, one of the four crises that he talked about was racial inequality and making sure that we do everything that we can to deal with that, to deal with that trauma, to deal with that devastating fact. There’s still a lot more work to be done. The work is not done. But the President is going to do everything in his power in the federal government, in this White House, to make sure that we address issues like this.”


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