Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg said she learned just how long “tentacles of hate” can be from Emmett Till’s story, adding that appearing in the film was the best way to “raise the alarm”.
Titled Till, the film is based on the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s quest for justice for her 14-year-old son Emmett, who was lynched in 1955 while visiting cousins in Mississippi.
Starring Danielle Deadwyler and Goldberg as Emmett’s grandmother, Alma Carthan, along with Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison and Haley Bennett.
Goldberg said, “It could be someone’s baby. And for me, that was a catalyst because I recognized, I think in a way I didn’t really know I thought, how big racism is and all the -isms associated with racism and how long the tentacles of hate can be.
“For me, Till is the epitome of what hate can look like and what it means to hate like that. To see this ordinary woman and her gorgeous, ordinary 14-year-old son pushed into a situation his grandmother surely never thought would be possible.
“His mother never really thought it was possible because she says in the film, ‘I’ve seen what they do to people down there, but it has nothing to do with me, I’m here.’
“As it turns out, it has to do with all of us, and we’re all here. So it really became the best way for me to alert the direction we are going as a world with our hatred of these people.
She added: “Just name it, someone is full of hate and that’s the climax. Till is the culmination of what hate can look like. But it is also the culmination of the love between mother and son. So there are so many things.
The 67-year-old actress remembers being “shocked” when she first heard Emmett Till’s story before learning about “all the prejudices that exist”.
Goldberg said people “always hoped” that a film documenting his story would come out, but that didn’t happen before she got involved with James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Reilly, as well as Frederick Zollo and Keith Beauchamp.
She said: “Keith Beauchamp decided it had to be done because he was also a friend of Mrs Mobley and he wanted the story to come out and get into the zeitgeist.
“So first he made a documentary, which kind of helped bring the story back to life, and then he started working on a script that we couldn’t get anyone’s attention to.”
Goldberg said she was shocked that people were so “jaded” that they didn’t want to make the film.
“And then George Floyd happened, and the reckoning that happened in the United States really made people look at themselves and how they feel,” she said.
“Suddenly, everyone could identify with what was going on with George Floyd, and that also helped open the door to the money we needed to make the movie.”
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine and a half minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and eventually went limp. His death sparked worldwide protests as part of a broader reckoning with racial injustice.
Meanwhile, Deadwyler, 40, said it was a “critical time” to reflect on America’s history.
She said: “The challenges we face in America, governors who are not interested in delving into the reality of American history and where we come from, real ancestry.
“It’s a place where people don’t talk about the impact of black women’s work on the civil rights movement – so Mamie is the starting point.
“She is the forerunner of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, all were deeply affected by Mamie’s actions and Emmett Till’s life, so it’s critical now.