Jesse Williams has received some major backlash after his efforts to promote his directorial debut, a film that focuses on Emmett Till’s mother, using memes in the same style as the recently launched Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. Williams has since removed the offending images from his Instagram due to the amount of criticism they drew, according to reports from TMZ.
It began on Monday when news began to break that Williams would be directing a film that focuses on Mamie Till and her fight for her son’s justice. The 14-year-old Emmett Till was infamously murdered in brutal fashion for the crime of allegedly whistling at a white woman, one of the darkest points of the Civil Rights era.
On Williams’ Instagram page, the Grey’s Anatomy actor began to post several images, including ones that involve Mamie with tears in her eyes and Mamie standing over her son’s casket, with the phrase “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” the tagline from the Nike campaign, emblazoned over it. The images also included the promotional tagline for the film, “TiLL Coming Soon.”
Many followers of Williams were not happy that the actor appeared to be drawing a parallel between Till’s slaying and Kaepernick’s alleged blackballing due to his stance on kneeling during the national anthem. The rising criticism forced Williams to step in and remove the offending images, leaving only one version of the image: a black-and-white photo of Emmett’s uncle in court, pointing out the white men who killed his nephew.
In recent years Williams has moved to the forefront of activism on civil rights issues, receiving the Humanitarian Award from BET in 2016. During his acceptance speech for the award, Williams gave a fiery speech on the issue of police brutality in America, as covered by Glamour.
“We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo. And we’re done watching, and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us,” said Williams during his speech. “Burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil — black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them. Gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real. Thank you.”
Williams’ film based on Mamie Till has yet to receive a release date, but reports from Vanity Fair reveal that Taraji P. Henson is slated to star as Mamie.