America has a short memory. Events which polarize one generation seem all but forgotten by the next. While good for progress, this historical amnesia can have serious consequences for a culture.
Racial segregation and the Jim Crow laws that were a fact of life in the South so recently seem only a dusty archive. Unlike the mantra of Jews to ‘never forget’ following the Holocaust, African-Americans’ seem to have a different relationship to the atrocities visited upon them.
The case of Emmett Louis Till is a particularly shocking episode in the long, unforgivable saga of American racism. A 14-year-old boy from Chicago, visiting his uncle in a small Mississippi town whistled at a white woman in 1955. What followed was the brutal torture, disfigurement and murder of child that shocked many — but not as many as it should have.
This straightforward but powerful documentary lets the principals in the case speak for themselves, led by Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley. It was her decision to expose her son’s mutilated body to the world that made the case a national headline. The fact that much stayed the same for so long is a tragedy, but at the very least this stirring document salvages some dignity for those who were victims of a particularly American brand of injustice.
Opens August 17 at Film Forum