Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mike Wiley's Tour de Force: "DAR HE: The Lynching of Emmett Till" (2013)

The senseless 1955 murder of teenager Emmett Till marked a turning point in the civil rights movement in the southern United States. Mike Wiley turns the story into a one man show, literally a one man show- playing almost two dozen speaking parts, male and female, himself.

Till was a fourteen year old boy from Chicago visiting relatives in the small town of Money, Mississippi. While hanging around with some cousins, the boy was dared into talking to a white store owner, and either made some inappropriate comments and touched her, or what he said to her was misinterpreted (he had a stutter he sometimes solved by whistling). The woman's husband and his half-brother kidnapped Till a few days later, beat and killed him, and dumped his body in a local river. His mother famously held an open casket funeral, showing the world the torture Emmett went through, and the two men responsible for his murder were found not guilty, and later told a reporter about how they did in fact murder the youth. They could not be retried thanks to double jeopardy.

According to the end credits, this film is an adaptation of a play written by Mike Wiley, and I assume it was a one-man show. Director Underhill opens up the story, and through the use of some unobtrusive yet effective special effects and editing (well done by Larry J. Gardner), Wiley is able to play off himself in scenes from Till's life and the aftermath of his death. This is not a photographed stage presentation, Wiley puts on costuming to play all the characters on location.

Watching a man in drag play a woman in such a serious film is disconcerting at first. Also, Wiley portrays the white murderers without any makeup to look Caucasian (thank goodness). He is a versatile performer, slightly changing his voice to fit the role without too much effort. His best scene, ironically, is as Emmett's mother Mamie, as she describes examining the body of her dead son. You forget this is a man telling the story, as the mother's love comes through.

I am still waiting for Hollywood to make a definitive version of the events that happened, and I am surprised they have not yet. In the meantime, while it is not perfect, "DAR HE: The Lynching of Emmett Till" is a very good telling of those sad, stupid events, done with a passion for the subject and for the craft of acting and film making in general. (* * * *) out of five stars.