Last Thursday, Sheen Center for Thought and Culture hosted a panel with film director Keith Beauchamp.
It was horrendous to discover that America, despite its constitutional promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, could produce something opposite for all it stands for: the brutalization of a 14-year-old child. Yet, this was reality in 1955 Mississippi. A wretched consequence of the time period. But, however fortunate the subsequent events are, the brunt of that reality could not be avoided. Simply because the grieving mother of that same 14-year-old bravely decided to broadcast her child’s mutilated body, it sparked a revolution that changed a nation.
And Keith Beauchamp, director of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, is a leading contributor of the Till narrative. Beauchamp is a filmmaker whose aforementioned documentary prompted the United States Department of Justice to reopen the Till case in May 2004. And now, as he strives to make a feature film showcasing the Emmett Till case to a nation-wide audience, we’re once again turning back the clock on the murder of Emmett Till.
The Q&A was accompanied by Fred Zollo, producer of the upcoming Till film, and a regular in theatre – having produced more than 100 plays in New York and London, with moderator Kelley Girod of the Sheen Center overseeing the conversation.
Of course, the answers were plentiful:
Girod: So why are we telling this story?
Beauchamp: I think you touched on it a little bit when you mentioned Treyvon Martin (earlier). You know, I’m 46 years old now. And when I did this film, I was very young. Research started when I was 22. It took me 9 years to produce the film so I was very young and it was my first film, and I produced it … The reason I say this is because I’m truly moved and amazed that what I would’ve considered the young years of my life – and we’re actually seeing history repeat itself. Every time we see the shooting of unarmed Black men by police, we think of Emmett Till. Emmett Till’s name always metaphorically comes back to fruition.
Girod: What can we do on a daily basis just to help things move forward just to provide a sense of hope?
Beauchamp: We have to be angry. It’s okay to be angry, right? With anger, you get action. And when I produced this film, I wanted to have the same impact. I wanted to have the same impact with people that it had on me when I first saw that (Emmett Till’s) photograph in Jet Magazine at the age of 10. I was shocked. I was angry and upset. And that’s what prompted me on this journey for so long to tell this story. Until you get angry – we’ve been getting a little angry – but until we’re really angry, then you’re going to start seeing things change.
Nevertheless, although Beauchamp envisions the future film as a primary concern, he also established the penultimate goal of seeing prosecution for Carolyn Bryant, of whom recently told a historian that her assumed innocence in Till’s case was an actually false testimony.