In the summer of 1955, then 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi. The unjust racial motivation behind Emmett's murder, in addition to his mother Mamie's determination to seek justice for her son, was one of the sparks that led to the birth of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Emmett and Mamie's story is given new light in the new ABC limited series Women of the Movement.
The series is partially based on the book Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement by Devery S. Anderson. Devery's book is considered the definitive account of Emmett's murder and the trials that followed. Women of the Movement also draws from Mamie's own autobiography, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America.
Does 'Women of the Movement' tell Emmett's story accurately?
So far, yes. Young Emmett (played by Cedric Joe) lives in a loving home with his mother Mamie (Adrienne Warren) in Chicago. Everything changes one day when Mamie's uncle Mose Wright (Glynn Turman) invites Emmett for a summer visit to Mississippi. Curious about seeing more of the country, Emmett asks his mom if he can go. "Don't worry, I'm going to be just fine," Emmett reassures his mother, who is understandably worried about her son going straight into the heart of the Jim Crow South.
Once in Mississippi, Emmett is unjustly targeted for harmlessly interacting with a woman named Carolyn Bryant (Julia McDermott) in a grocery store owned by her husband. The reason? Carolyn is white and Emmett is Black. Mamie had warned Emmett to keep his eyes down around white people in Mississippi, but all Emmett did was smile and act like a typical kid.
When Emmett leaves the grocery store with some other boys, someone whistles and everything spirals from there. In the series, just like in real-life, Emmett is later abducted by Carolyn's extremely racist husband, Roy Bryant (Carter Jenkins), and his brother J.W. Milam (Chris Coy) in the early morning hours. (Note: Per the Clarion Ledger, Carolyn Bryant overly embellished what had actually occurred. She also allegedly never told her husband about Emmett; he found out from someone else in town.)
The show doesn't hide Emmett's body away from viewers.
Women of the Movement doesn't sugarcoat what happened to Emmett at the hands of Roy and J.W. In one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the series so far, Mamie looks at her son's body for the first time after he's found murdered and mutilated. Women of the Movement Marissa Jo Cerar told the Los Angeles Times why it was important to show Emmett's body onscreen, just like Mamie showed the world in real life.
"We wanted to make it as realistic as we could. We have to see what Mamie saw. Otherwise, the story makes no sense," she explained. "Jet [magazine] printed the photos. The world reacted to the photos. We want our audience to react to what Mamie saw. And we could not see Emmett’s body until Mamie saw it. She is our guide to understand her horror and what she saw, and then her strength."
Women of the Movement will conclude its limited run on Thursday, Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. on ABC. You can stream earlier episodes of the series now on Hulu.