As one of the year’s most highly anticipated films preps for its national release later this month, Danielle Deadwyler, Till’’s lead actor is admitting that she initially had apprehension around taking the role.
“I’ll be honest, it was the most scary thing I could think of, role-wise, to do,” Deadwyler, 40, recently told PEOPLE. “I neglected to read it. And I say that to show a kind of parallel to the experience of Mamie, to show that we don’t always boldly walk into things.”
Mamie Till-Mobley was of course the mother of Emmett Till. She would become known in history as the civil rights activists who joined the fight after her 14 year old son Emmett was lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman, (later confirmed to be a lie told by Carolyn Bryant) in Mississippi in 1955. While Bryant’s husband Roy and brother in law J.W. Milam were arrested for the murder and also confessed to having committed it, charges were never pressed. Carolyn Bryant, now in her late eighties has also never faced charges.
Deadwyler tells PEOPLE that she actually grew up working with civil rights organizations in her hometown of Atlanta, and that she felt a sense of responsibility for this story “to be told right, and for it to be told truthfully and historically accurate. All that was going into the feeling of saying ‘yes.’ “
The actor also shared that being a parent herself helped her to connect with Till-Mobley.
“I think that it did,” she says. “But I think the weight of everything is bigger than me and my experience. I’ve known this story since I was a kid and I’ve had proximity to this story and the people who knew Mamie well into her later years, and the people who were impacted by her choices have had an impact and influence on my life. So it’s been a part of me for a long time.”
Till-Mobley infamously fought to have her son’s body returned to Chicago after his murder, and to hold an open casket funeral service—a decision intentionally made so that the world could bear witness to the cruelties and violence of racism in the south during the Jim Crow era.
“She’s bringing you into the utter and complete drudgery of what it means to be a mother who sees something happen to a loved one, a person seeing the ramifications of terrorism on her child,” Deadwyler says.
Before Emmett Till set off to Mississippi from Chicago, his mother had a talk with him about what type of treatment he might expect as a Black boy in the south. Deadwyler tells PEOPLE that she’s had to have similar talks with her own son.
“I feel f—-ed up about having to have that conversation, but I still did have to have a conversation,” she says. “I have this responsibility to inform him how to navigate the world. His social environment is very white at this time, in his school milieu. And I’ve made a point to have a certain kind of cultural upbringing for him. He’s privileged. I tell him he’s privileged in a certain way, and everyone is not.”
Deadwyler continued, “He’s very aware of the social dynamics that are happening. He’s having the conversation with me about Uvalde and how his peers are reacting. He’s having the conversation about Buffalo and not sitting into him and his body. There’s this attention in the Black experience that I know he’s understanding now. Innocence is shifting.”
The actor also shared that she hopes one day justice will be served for the Till family.
“That’s what they deserve,” she says. “I don’t know what it wholly looks like, but I know that it is a continuous effort on their behalf; it’ll be a continuous effort on the Black community’s behalf. It is not right to commit an egregious act against a child and suffer no consequence. Accountability has to be had. Justice comes in a number of ways, and it is yet to be seen.”