In theaters since Wednesday, “Emmett Till” marks the revelation of an actress, Danielle Deadwyler, who plays a mother struggling to bring justice to her son, who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
If Chinonye Chukwu’s film is called Emmett Till, it is above all the portrait of the latter’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. A woman who never ceased, from the 1950s until her death in 2003, to be an activist in the civil rights movement. A fight that follows the murder of his 14-year-old son, Emmett, murdered in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, for allegedly “inappropriate” behavior with Carolyn Bryant, a white cashier at a local grocery store. Grandma made the decision to let nearly 50,000 people view her son’s corpse in Chicago at his open-casket burial, and allowed the magazine Jet to publish photos of the body, in order to show the mutilations he had undergone.
It is the actress Danielle Deadwyler who has been chosen to interpret this extraordinary woman. A mother herself, the actress took the measure of the immense responsibility that weighed on her shoulders: “I was genuinely humbled and driven by great will in approaching the role of Grandma at a time when she experienced a personal tragedy and when the country was going through a political revolt, from which the civil rights movement benefited. I wanted to restore the joyful relationship between Grandma and her beloved son”.
Born in Atlanta, Danielle Deadwyler is the daughter of a legal secretary and a railroad supervisor. Fascinated by comedy from childhood, it was in 2009 that she made her real acting debut on the theatrical stage of her hometown.
The following year, she turns in the short film Cyburbia then in 2012 in the TV movie A Cross to Bear, where she plays the main role of a homeless alcoholic mother. She went on to appear in shorts and in series like MacGyver (2017), Atlanta (2018), Watchmen (2019) and Most Wanted Criminals (2020), before landing recurring roles in The Haves and the Have Nots and Paradise Lost, with Josh Hartnett.
In the cinema, after small roles in 2017 in Mary with Chris Evans and L’Échappée belle, alongside Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland, she headlined the costume drama Jane and Emma and the thriller The Devil To Pay (2019). 2021 marks a turning point in her career: we find her on the poster for the Netflix western The Harder They Fall, surrounded by Idris Elba, Regina King and LaKeith Stanfield, as well as in the credits of the post-apocalyptic series Station Eleven, adapted from Emily St. John Mandel’s novel.
Emmett Till: this chilling true story that marked the history of the United States
With Emmett Till, she continues her ascent and her performance is such that she is approached for an Oscar nomination. But, while many critics and professionals bet on her, Danielle Deadwyler is not one of the lucky ones.
The actress explained to the BBC: “The history of cinema is over 100 years old. I dare say the system is deeply, deeply scarred by the systemic racism that has shaped our country. And we continue to face systemic racism in this country, which led to the loss of Tire Nichols”. Many journalists point to the fact that she’s not the only black actress to have been snubbed by the Academy this year: Viola Davis was also on the list of favorites for her performance in The Woman King.
The director of Emmett Till, Chinonye Chukwu, does not doubt for a moment the talent of her actress: “Danielle Deadwyler is a star and she was cut out for this role. She’s one of the most gifted actresses I’ve worked with and have ever seen. […] On the set, we were speechless… I’m always very difficult to please. But from the first take, I was captivated. There were quite a few moments like that of Grandma’s testimony where we were dumbfounded”. The actress will be found in the next series of JJ Abrams, Demimonde, and in the Netflix action thriller Carry On.