Documaker James Moll is set to make his dramatic debut with a feature about Emmett Till, the 14-year-old whose 1955 murder by Mississippi racists for whistling at a white woman became a catalyst for the civil rights movement.
State Street Pictures partners Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr. will produce.
Project is based on “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America,” a memoir written by Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, and Christopher Benson. Benson wrote a script with David Barr and Raymond Thomas that tells the story from the vantage point of Till Mobley, who died in 2003.
Moll directed Oscar-winning docu “The Last Days” and is a founding exec director of the Shoah Foundation, working for a decade with Steven Spielberg to preserve on video the reminiscences of Holocaust survivors. Till Mobley enlisted him after she was invited by Spielberg to tell her own story on camera for the Shoah Foundation.
Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was abducted and murdered. Roy Bryant (whose wife Till allegedly whistled at) and his half-brother J.W. Milam were acquitted and then accepted $5,000 to admit to Look magazine that they tortured and murdered the youth.
Till’s grieving mother “contacted the press and allowed photographers to take pictures of her son’s battered body,” Moll said. An estimated 100,000 people viewed the open casket in Chicago, which amounted to the biggest civil rights demonstration to that point.
“Her actions after his death became pivotal in the civil rights movement,” Moll said. “Rosa Parks told her she was thinking of Emmett when she made her stand on the bus. All Mamie ever wanted was some acknowledgement from the state of Mississippi that they had done wrong. She died waiting for that.”
Teitel and Tillman, who have a first look deal at Fox, have just submitted the script to Searchlight.
Last year, the FBI reopened the Till case and earlier this month federal investigators exhumed the teen’s body to determine if DNA or other evidence might shed light on the murder or determine a cause of death.