In 1955, a 14-year-old African American boy named Emmett Till was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman. It was a murder that stunned a nation in the grip of Jim Crow laws and segregation. Now, Will Smith and Jay-Z, two of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, are taking on the story for HBO.
This story is not the first time that Will Smith and Jay-Z would have worked together. The duo collaborated on last year’s Annie, starring Jamie Foxx. It is anticipated that, with Will Smith and Jay-Z taking on producing responsibilities, that the six-hour Emmett Till story will be harrowing and emotional.
Till was visiting family in Mississippi when he encountered Carolyn Bryant, the wife of the town grocer. He later turned up, brutally beaten, shot, and in the nearby Tallahatchie River, where he was not discovered until days later. Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, made the controversial choice at the time to have her son’s casket open during the funeral so that everyone could see the violence that had been done to her boy, and the murder became a touchstone for the then-growing civil rights movement.
Till’s murderers turned out to be Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, who admitted to the crime years after they had initially been acquitted. Under double jeopardy laws, Roy Bryant and Milam could not face a judge and jury again for their crimes.
Emmett Till would have turned 74 this year on July 25. The Smithsonian reports that Till’s casket was donated as part of the museum’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The casket was donated with its glass top still intact because in 2005, according to Simeon Wright, Emmett Till’s cousin, the State of Mississippi refused to reopen the murder case unless it could be proven that the body inside the grave was, indeed, Till’s.
There is not a writer attached to the HBO project as yet, though there are several other Emmett Till projects in the works for this year. Roger Ebert’s wife, Chaz, is backing one project, and there is another project to be based on the play The Face of Emmett Till, co-written by Mamie Till Bradley, Emmett Till’s mother.
The movie adaptation of The Face of Emmett Till is slated to begin shooting in Chicago and Mississippi in early 2016. David Barr III co-wrote the script for the movie adaptation with David Scott Hay, and said that filming the story was “a long time coming.”
“One of the greatest privileges of my life was working with that magnificent woman to tell her story. And to tell it right. The heart of the story is the love of a mother for her son,” he said.
[Photo by Charley Gallay / Getty Images for Gucci]