What should have been interpreted as a moment worthy of praise has quickly turned into a controversial, yet teachable moment for actor and activist, Jesse Williams. Today, Deadline shared news that the Grey’s Anatomy star will be directing his first feature film Till, which will cinematically explore the aftermath of Emmett Louis Till’s murder. (The then-14-year-old boy was killed by white men for allegedly whistling at a white woman who, later, recanted her story.)
Unlike previous Emmett Till films and series—three different projects connected to Taraji P. Henson, JAY-Z and Whoopi Goldberg are in the works—Till will specifically be shaped through the lens of his mother, Mamie Mobley Till, during her quest for justice.
The screenplay comes from Michael Reilly and civil rights filmmaker Keith A. Beauchamp, and Williams’ film is based on Beauchamp’s 2005 doc, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till. That documentary led the United States Department of Justice to reopen the Till case in 2004.
“I’m honored to be directing the story of Mamie & Emmett: a tale of revolutionary defiance in the face of tremendous personal and public devastation,” Williams said in the press release. “An exploration of power and pulling back the curtain on cultural violence; of boyhood and maternity challenging America’s reflex to hide from itself; underdogs refusing to pretend that terror is freedom.”
In a since-deleted tweet, the actor and director shared a photo of Till’s mother wailing over his casket, bearing the caption, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” Let’s just say that social media had some pretty strong words for Williams’ promotional photo of choice.
— vanessa taylor (@BaconTribe) September 24, 2018
— Mike H. (@SirMikeH) September 24, 2018
This is wildly disturbing and tone deaf yikes
— Jazmyn Kashea (@jazkashea) September 24, 2018
This is even worse…wow.
— Jasmin H (@jhsting32) September 24, 2018
This is probably the worst thing you could’ve done here.
— Andray (@andraydomise) September 24, 2018
Way too appropriate a serious issue to market for a multi-million dollar sweat shop company and promote your movie.
— 3… 2… 1… Jessie (@Jessiedoth) September 24, 2018
Why TF would u even tweet this BS?? pic.twitter.com/sT8NTNoDiJ
— Civil Savage (@Hustle_Scholar) September 24, 2018
This is in really poor taste!
— tamcan1 (@tamcan1) September 24, 2018
This is pretty disgusting and exploitative.
— Kristy Tillman (@KristyT) September 24, 2018
Production for the film is set to kick off in summer 2019, with the Till family’s support.