Women of the Movement review – sensitive but unfocused Emmett Till series

The first outing of the Jay Z-produced anthology series tells the story of the aftermath of Emmett Till’s murder in 1955

omen of the Movement, an ABC anthology series on the often overlooked or underappreciated women of the American civil rights movement, opens with tears of agony – that of a young Mamie Till (Broadway star Adrienne Warren),

a black woman whose labor pains are dismissed by a white nurse in a sterile 1941 hospital. It’s indicative of the road ahead, for a series following the brutal, racist murder of Mamie’s son,

Emmett, by two white men in Mississippi, 1955, through Mamie’s grief-fueled activism and the eventual acquittal of his killers. But Women of the Movement, crucially, begins with the joy of life: first infant Emmett, cherished by his mother, then the teenager whose killing inflamed the country

This first of a six-part installment, created by Marissa Jo Cerar (The Handmaid’s Tale) and executive produced by Jay Z and Will Smith, jumps from 1941 to the summer of 1955 in Chicago, where Mamie lives with Emmett (Cedric Joe), a charming, soft-hearted boy believably on the cusp of childhood and adolescence, in relative comfort

The series proceeds with the strict chronology and sign-posting of a network procedural. Emmett, hungry for adventure, wants to visit his great-uncle Mose (Glynn Turman) in the Mississippi Delta rather than hang with his mom and her doting boyfriend Gene (Ray Fisher); Mamie is hesitant, fearful of Emmett’s naivety regarding the customs of the deep Jim Crow south, but she relents.

They poignantly hug goodbye at the train station Pilot director Gina Prince-Bythewood plays the fateful encounter between Emmett and grocery cashier Carolyn Bryant (Julia McDermott)

They poignantly hug goodbye at the train station Pilot director Gina Prince-Bythewood plays the fateful encounter between Emmett and grocery cashier Carolyn Bryant (Julia McDermott)

a white woman, ambiguously enough to reflect existing question marks – we don’t see what Emmett says to her, there is a wolf-whistle but it’s unclear who it’s from or to – while remaining crystal clear on the dynamics: Emmett, playful and kind, acting innocently; Carolyn, bound by a code of hatred and fear, reacting ominously in anger. By the end of the first episode

Emmett has been snatched from his bed by Carolyn’s husband Roy (Carter Jenkins) and his half-brother, JW Milam (Chris Coy) and taken away in a truck, never to be seen alive again

The other, sadly seared into the common consciousness of anyone familiar with the Civil Rights movement, is the photo of his corpse – a body mutilated beyond recognition; his tortured flesh distended after spending three days at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River.

Taken by a photographer from Jet Magazine which made history by publishing the heartrending pictures, that one has been reprinted scores of times.

Mamie Till-Mobley's decision to show the world what white racists did to her son drew national attention to Civil Rights Movement, expanding its base of support beyond the South. But the photo's wide circulation also meant that eventually Emmett became a symbol and a victim instead of remaining what he was: a boy sadistically ripped away from his mother.