Exclusive: Kevin Wilson, Jr. Talks About His Short Film My Nephew EmmettPosted by Wilson Morales
January 21, 2018
Back in December, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had announced the 10 live action short films that will advance in the voting process for the 90th Academy Awards.
Among the selections was Kevin Wilson, Jr.’s Short Film My Nephew Emmett, which shares the horrific tale of the young African American Emmett Till, who in 1955 was savagely murdered by two white men whilst visiting his uncle in Mississippi.
The tale is told from his uncle’s point of view and has notched up some impressive awards, including the Student Academy Award.
The film stars Jasmine Guy (The Vampire Diaries) as Emmett’s aunt, Elizabeth Wright, Joshua Wright as Emmett Til, Dane Rhodes (The Magnificent 7) and L.B. Williams as Uncle Mose Wright. Williams was suffering from Cancer during filming and sadly died not long after My Nephew Emmett was completed. Kevin Wilson, Jr. is an Award Winning filmmaker and an MFA Candidate in New York University’s Graduate Film Program. Wilson first emerged as a rising talent in 2009 when he directed multiple sold out performances of his debut play The Emmett Till Story, a brutal depiction of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till.
Produced by Kevin Wilson, Jr. , Lauren L. Owen, TaNisha Fordham, & Austin D. James, My Nephew Emmett has been selected to screen at several Oscar Qualifying Film Festivals and won the GOLD MEDAL at the 44th Student Academy Awards in the Narrative Domestic Category. That same year, the film won the Director’s Guild of America Student Film Award and was selected to screen at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 55th New York Film Festival.
In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Wilson, Jr. talked about putting this short together and having his film selected among the few that may get an Oscar nomination.
How did the subject come about for you?
Kevin Wilson, Jr.: I am a student at NYU’s Graduate Student Program and we have to make a short film every year in the program. In my second year, I made this film. I knew I wanted to tell this story because the second year at NYU is generally the more ambitious work that we have to do. I had been connected to this story for many, many years. My mom was a single mother when I was growing up and she was a student at an historically black university in North Carolina. She wanted to make sure I was aware of who I was and what I would be encountering in the world as a black man. She told me about many stories including Emmett Till and it just stayed with me over the years.
When I finally found my passion for filmmaking, this was one of the stories that I knew that I wanted to tell. I was really fortunate to be able to find the money for the project pretty quickly. I had done a play about it in North Carolina. I went right back to those same people when it was time to raise money for this film. Folks who had seen the play in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and in a matter of a few months, I raised the money that I needed for the project. We traveled to Mississippi and we shot about a mile from the story actually took place; which I thought was very important just because I’m a very spiritual person and I believe in spiritual things happening when you’re on sacred ground and I consider Money, MS to be sacred ground.
I believed Emmett and those characters were with us while we were shooting. I’ve just been fortunate for all of this to be happening. I didn’t make this film for any recognition and I didn’t think that I would be winning any awards. I just made it for class. In the process of wanting to get more eyes on the movie, I applied to some film festivals but I had no clue it would turn out the way that it did. It’s a great opportunity for more people to watch the movie and for more people to learn how Emmett Till’s story impacted the world.
Can you talk about the cast?
Kevin Wilson, Jr.: With Jasmine Guy, I knew I wanted to cast her right off the bat and I actually wrote the part with her in mind. I knew from studying the story and reading a book by Simeon Wright, who was actually in the bed with Emmett the night of the abduction. He spoke about his mother Elizabeth Wright in great detail and he describe how she looked and how she carried herself. I thought that she looked and was the exact age that Jasmine Guy is now. They have similar features and I knew I wanted her to play the part. I reached out to her agent and sent them the script; and luckily they called back a few days later and said that she wanted to do the part. Emmett’s story is such a big part of American history, but it’s also a big part within the black community and I think that played a huge role in her deciding to come on to the project. Jasmine Guy is an icon. I reached for the moon just in case she would have said yes because why would Jasmine Guy do a student film. She’s brilliant and has a huge level of experience. I think the story was very lucky to have her.
As for L.B. Williams, I watching Juice by Ernest Dickerson and starring Tupac and Omar Epps and there’s this one scene where Tupac’s father is sitting in a chair and Tupac’s character walks in the room and places some money in his pocket and says, “All right Pops. Be Good.” That was L.B. Williams sitting in that chair. The way that he was looking, it looked like there was a story behind his eyes. The way that I was telling this story, I knew that it would have to be a guy in that role who had a story behind the eyes and would be sitting in solitude for most of the film. Since we would be watching him for most of the film, it couldn’t be just anyone. It had to be someone whose eyes gave you a sense that something was happening. I met with L.B. and I never auditioned him. I would ask him a question and he would look off and think and the way that he was just thinking, I had to have him. It worked out.
Unfortunately, what ended up happening was that he was dealing with cancer, actually dying of cancer when we met and when we were shooting. We completed the film and two months later, he passed away. The movie is about death and looming over this character and this impending doom and how’s he contemplating that. L.B. actually had that same feeling over his life and that’s what came across in the film.
Where can folks see the short?
Kevin Wilson, Jr.: I’m working on a distribution deal now and should it get nominated, it will be released within that timeframe with the other nominees in the theaters. If it’s not nominated, the same distributor will release it on iTunes, Amazon and all those digital platforms. That will be available right before the Academy Awards. It’s exciting because my goal was to get the film seen.
What’s next for you?
Kevin Wilson, Jr.: I’m still in school, graduating in May and will be shooting my first feature film this summer in June or July. Looking forward to that and just trying to create every day and write content that I’m passionate about and make films.