BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (OPINION) — ABC will offer a look at a murder that could have come from today’s headlines but actually took place in 1955. The network’s six-episode limited series, “Women of the Movement,” is based on the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley, who risked her life to find justice after her son Emmett was brutally murdered in the Jim Crow South.
The production will air in three parts starting at 8 p.m. Jan. 6 on ABC. It will be broadcast for three consecutive weeks in that time slot.
Mamie Till-Mobley (Adrienne Warren) was unwilling to let Emmett’s murder disappear from the headlines. She took his story to the world’s stage and emerged as an activist for justice and ignited the civil rights movement that continues today.
This is not the first time Warren has taken on a role that is based on a real person. She earned a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2020 for her portrayal of Tina Turner in the Broadway show “Tina.”
Warren is extremely diligent when it comes to playing such roles because of the responsibility she feels to get the performance right either for the real person or their ancestors. Her concerns were multiplied because what happened to Emmett Till is part of her own history.
“It is an honor to have the opportunity to tell their stories in the best way that I possibly can, and for me, that is erasing myself from this narrative and putting them forward and doing my best to tell their story and to honor them as much as I can,” Warren says. “There is a lot of research that is involved in that. Sometimes there is a physical transformation that is involved in it.
“It is literally taking every part of being a storyteller and learning as much as you possibly can about the human being. Who they are. Not who people perceive them to be but who they are and presenting that in a way that is as truthful as possible as an actress because you want people to see the humanity in the people that I portray.”
The story of Emmett Till is one of hatred, bigotry, loss, corruption, pain and terror. Warren is convinced she would not have been able to deal with the massive dark emotions of telling the story without the support of the rest of the cast.
Along with Warren, the cast of “Women of the Movement” features: 1992 Tony Award winner for Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical, Tonya Pinkins, as Alma; Cedric Joe as Emmett Till; Ray Fisher as Gene Mobley; Emmy Award winner Glynn Turman as Mose Wright; Chris Coy as J.W. Milam; Carter Jenkins as Roy Bryant and Julia McDermott as Carolyn Bryant.
Warren also had one of her best friends travel with her to Mississippi for the filming. The friend was able to give Warren a family environment once the day’s filming was done.
“That just reaffirms how important it is to really make sure you have the right people around you and to be in this cast and be surrounded by people who were just as passionate about telling the story as every single one of us,” Warren says. “It made it that much easier for me to actually just show up and do my job and be as honest and as truthful and as deep as possible because getting to the root of her pain and the root of her love, her pain is all rooted in the love for her son. That is the most important thing for me.
“And because of that, I actually felt a lot of love all the time because I felt supported by every single person I was working with as well as when I got home.”
The production was filmed in the same area of Money, MS, where Till was killed. Warren found that feeling the same dirt under her feet, being in some of the same buildings and being around those who had ancestors living when the events happened helped her play the role.
All of this was necessary for Warren because she believes this is a very important story to be told at this time.
“Not much has changed since 1955. You can feel it. You can feel the gravity of that, which just takes everything that we are doing and elevates it in a way that makes this piece so unbelievably important because it’s about education,” Warren says. “This is about informing those who may not have known before so that we don’t continue to perpetuate these cycles that we are doing, just hurting one another, which is hurting young people, which is hurting mothers, which is hurting humanity.
“We are hurting each other, and we are not seeing each other for who we really are. There’s something really to be said about being in Mississippi, doing it.”