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Film Review: My Nephew Emmett

Film Review: My Nephew EmmettBy Kelisha Graves

December 22, 2017

“We’re here for the nigger who whistled for my wife,” Roy Bryant demands of Mose Wright. We know that Carolyn Bryant (the woman who accused Emmett Till of grabbing and verbally threatening her) lied. She lied. He was murdered. His bloated corpse was found in the Tallahatchie River.

Even if Emmett Till was in Mississippi to visit family, the South could never be a peaceful respite for a city boy. My Nephew Emmett is a pithy and poignant short film written and directed by Kevin Wilson Jr. The film won the GOLD MEDAL at the 44th Student Academy Awards in the Narrative Domestic Category.

Recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced My Nephew Emmett was among the 10 live action short films that will advance in the voting process for the 90th Academy Awards.

Told from the perspective of Till’s uncle, Mose Wright, the film opens on August 28, 1955. When Wright is told that Till “whistled” at a white woman, Wright is wise to anticipate trouble….white trouble specifically. He sits in his rocking chair with his shotgun cocked Northward, awaiting the trouble that is certainly inevitable. While this scene is quick, we catch a glimpse of another black male southern tradition: armed resistance. While the nonviolent direct action campaigns of the civil rights movement are widely known and heralded, Akinyele Umoja’s We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, which focuses on black Mississippians who fought back against white supremacist terrorism, demonstrates that black men adopted a variety of self-defense tactics to protect themselves and their families. Unfortunately, Mose Wright is unable to successfully protect his nephew and when Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam arrive, Wright perhaps implicitly knows that Till’s end is imminent.

The film stars Jasmine Guy as Emmett’s aunt, Elizabeth Wright, Joshua Wright as Emmett Til, Dane Rhodes and L.B. Williams as Uncle Mose Wright.

While this short film delivers a story with which we are all familiar, it delivers it through the complex prism of black manhood. It provides a crucial peak into the way in which Mose Wright’s black manhood was rendered mum and powerless on the night his nephew was seized. However, Wright takes an audacious and bold step when he publicly denounced Bryant and Milam.

The way in which Kevin Wilson, Jr. frames and executes this film is expert and worthy of commendation. The breadth of the cinematography is tantamount to that of a big-studio full-length feature while the depth of the hues offer a crispy finish. Perhaps the most powerful points of this narrative occur when the camera hovers overs the smooth and silent countenance of L.B. Williams (who portrays Mose Wright). This film works because it doesn’t merely try to enumerate a history lesson via bland repetitions of Jim Crow injustices. Rather, Wilson’s film attempts to expose the culture that made barbarity against young black manhood possible.

My Nephew Emmett is a short film that deserves to be extended into a full-length feature film. I trust it will be done.

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