Whoopi Goldberg: Emmett Till’s story is the epitome of what hate can look like

Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg said she learnt how long the “tentacles of hate” can be through Emmett Till’s story, adding that appearing in the film was the best way to “sound the alarm”.

The film titled Till is based on the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s pursuit of justice for her 14-year-old son Emmett, who was lynched in 1955 while visiting his cousins in Mississippi.

It stars Danielle Deadwyler in the title role and Goldberg as Emmett’s grandmother Alma Carthan, as well as Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison, and Haley Bennett.

Goldberg said: “This could be anybody’s child. And so for me that was the catalyst because I recognised, I think in a way that I didn’t really know that I was thinking about, was how large racism and all the -isms attached to racism actually is and how long the tentacles of hate can be.

“For me, Till is the epitome of what hate can look like and what it means to hate that way. To see this ordinary woman and her wonderful, ordinary 14-year-old son thrust into a situation that his grandmother certainly never would have thought would be possible.

“His mother never really thought this was possible because she says in the movie: ‘I’ve seen what they do to folks down there, but that has nothing to do with me, I’m up here.’

“As it turns out, it has to do with all of us, and we’re all up here. So it really for me became about the best way of sounding the alarm to the direction we as a world, we’re heading towards with our hatred of these people.”

She added: “Just name it, somebody’s full of hate, and that’s the culmination of it. Till is the culmination of what hate can look like. But it’s also the culmination of the love between a mother and a son. So it’s so many things.”

Graham Norton Show – London
Whoopi Goldberg (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The 67-year-old actress remembered being “shocked” when she first heard of Emmett Till’s story before learning about “all the prejudices that exist”.

Goldberg said people “always hoped” that a film documenting his story would come out but it never did, before she became involved alongside James Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Reilly as well as Frederick Zollo and Keith Beauchamp.

She said: “Keith Beauchamp decided that it needed to be made because he was also a friend of Mrs Mobley’s, and he wanted to get the story out and into the zeitgeist.

“So he first made a documentary which sort of helped resurrect the story and then started working on the script, which we couldn’t get anybody to pay attention to.”

Goldberg said she was shocked that people were so “blase” about not wanting to make the film.

34th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala – Arrivals
Danielle Deadwyler (Willy Sanjuan/AP)

“And then George Floyd happened and the reckoning that happened in the US really forced people to take a good look at themselves, and how they felt,” she said.

“Suddenly, everybody could identify with what was happening to George Floyd and that also helped open the doors to the money that we needed to make the film.”

Floyd died on May 25 2020, after former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine-and-a-half minutes as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe and eventually went limp. His death sparked worldwide protests as part of a broader reckoning over racial injustice.

Meanwhile, 40-year-old Deadwyler said it was a “critical time” to be considering American history.

She said: “The challenges that we’re facing in America, governors who are disinterested in digging into the reality of American history and where we derive from, the true origins.

“This is a marker where people don’t talk about the impact of black women’s labour in the civil rights movement – and so Mamie is an origin moment.

“She is the progenitor of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, Rosa Parks, all were deeply impacted by Mamie’s actions, and the life of Emmett Till, so this is critical right now.”