'Women' of a moving tribute: ABC revisits past atrocity in 'Women of the Movement'

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Rachel Jones / TV Media
Glynn Turman, Tonya Pinkins, Cedric Joe, Adrienne Warren and Ray Fisher in "Women of the Movement"

Glynn Turman, Tonya Pinkins, Cedric Joe, Adrienne Warren and Ray Fisher in "Women of the Movement"

One of the more difficult necessities in our lives — whether today or in bygone years — is the acknowledgement of past atrocities while taking steps to make sure they don't happen again. Through movements in activism or pop culture, society is often inspected, and untold truths and injustices are revealed alongside the names and faces of those involved. ABC's "Women of the Movement" prepares to do just that, and it premieres Thursday, Jan. 6, on the network.

The six-part historical drama shines a light on the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the woman behind the United States' civil rights movement: his own mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (portrayed in the series by "Blue Bloods'" Adrienne Warren).

Please note: the following article contains graphic descriptions and sensitive material.

Inspired by the book "Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement" by Devery S. Anderson, showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar ("The Fosters") places the focus on Mamie and how she risked her life to find her missing son, Emmett (played by Cedric Joe, "Space Jam: A New Legacy," 2021), following his yet-unconfirmed murder.

While the show focuses on the circumstances surrounding Emmett's horrific death, "Women of the Movement" recognizes and applauds Mamie's contributions to civil rights while lamenting the sad motivation behind her fight for equality: the unnecessary and racially motivated death of her own 14-year-old son.

Starring in the show alongside Warren and Joe are Glynn Turman ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," 2020), Tonya Pinkins ("Enchanted," 2007) and Ray Fisher ("Zack Snyder's Justice League," 2021), but the true stars of the show would have to be the research and development staff who spoke to several consultants in order to get the details of the event as accurate as possible.

Among the consultants are Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. and Dr. Marvel Parker, Emmett's cousins and leaders of the Emmett Till Memorial Center; Ms. Ollie Gordon, Emmett's cousin who grew up in the same building; and Christopher Benson, co-author of "Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America," written with Till-Mobley.

The historical backdrop of the show is at once tragic and terrifying. Set in 1955 among a segregated America steeped in Jim Crow laws, Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old from Chicago, was visiting his family in Money, Mississippi. On Aug. 24, he and some of his cousins were standing on a street corner, talking about how Till's girlfriend back home was white. Not believing him, they dared him to ask out Carolyn Bryant (played in the series by new talent Julia McDermott), a white woman inside the store.

Cedric Joe and Adrienne Warren star in "Women of the Movement"

Cedric Joe and Adrienne Warren star in "Women of the Movement"

Emmett was reportedly heard saying "Bye, baby" as he left, but Bryant cried a different story. With no witnesses inside the store, Bryant claimed that Till grabbed her, cat-called her and made inappropriate advances.

When Bryant's husband, Roy (Carter Jenkins, "Valentine's Day," 2010), returned home a few days later from a business trip, his wife told him her story. Early in the morning of Aug. 28, an enraged Roy and his half-brother, J.W. Milam (Chris Coy, "The Deuce"), drove to Till's family's home, forced young Till into their car, beat him to death and dumped his body by the Tallahatchie River.

The young boy, discovered on the river banks three days later, was so disfigured that his uncle, Moses Wright, could only identify him by the engraved ring on Emmett's finger. Instead of burying the body immediately, as authorities wanted to do, Emmett's mother, Mamie, had it sent back to Chicago, where she insisted on an open casket funeral. She was determined to let America see what had been done to her son.

Soon after "Jet" magazine published a photo of Emmett in his casket, Mamie's grief and rage was felt around the world.

Roy Bryant and Milam were accused of Emmett Till's murder — and unlike Emmett's interaction with Carolyn, witnesses identified them as suspects — but despite overwhelming evidence and the brutality of the murder, the brothers walked free. An all-white jury in a segregated courthouse voted not guilty on account of the state not properly identifying the body.

Years later, Carolyn admitted that Emmett was not guilty of anything she and her husband claimed he had done.

In a daring move to revisit the tragedy, the hatred and the fight for justice in the segregated south, "Women of the Movement" shares Mamie's plea for acknowledgement and change, no matter how graphic the method.

While the ABC miniseries cannot repair the Till family's loss or the hurt caused by Emmett's murder, it does serve as both a reminder of racism's sinister consequences and to illustrate the infinite lengths of a mother's love.

Join Mamie and "Women of the Movement" when it premieres Thursday, Jan. 6, on ABC.