“Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams will make his feature directorial debut with “Till,” a film about Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, an African American teenager who was lynched in 1955 after being accused of flirting with a white woman.
The movie will focus on Till-Mobley’s search for justice following the murder of her 14-year-old son in Jim Crow-era Mississippi. His murder was viewed as the catalyst for the next phase of the civil rights movement, and Till-Mobley famously insisted on an open-casket ceremony so her son’s mutilated body could be in full view and bring awareness to the cost of racially charged violence and the cruelty of lynching.
Williams is directing from a screenplay by Michael Reilly and civil rights filmmaker Keith A. Beauchamp. The movie is based on Beauchamp’s 2005 documentary, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” which led the United States Department of Justice to reopen the Till case in 2004. Williams will produce the film with Whoopi Goldberg — who will also appear in the project — Beauchamp, Frederick Zollo, Barbara Broccoli, Thomas Levine, and Leah Natasha Thomas. Production is expected to start next summer with the support of the Till family.
In announcing “Till” on Twitter, Williams came under fire on Monday for posting photos of Till-Mobley with the slogan for Nike’s recent ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Users slammed Williams’ tweets as exploiting Till-Mobley to promote his movie.
“What did Mamie Till sacrifice? that phrase demands some level of choice. of agency. she didn’t choose for her son to die,” one user wrote. “Can’t believe we’re using images of Black women’s grief after losing their children, in this case because he was murdered, to promote…..Nike? to meme them?”
Another tweeted that Williams’ action “makes me question how he’s going to do with the movie.”
Williams has since taken the images down, but has not addressed the backlash.
Deadline first reported Williams’ involvement with the film on Monday.