Hell hath no fury like a mother grieving an unjustly slain son, and few had the lasting social impact of Mamie Till-Mobley. Airing over three Thursdays (continuing January 13 and 20), Women of the Movement is primarily Mamie’s story, about a woman who helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement after her sorrow hardens into a grim resolve to not let her murdered 14-year-old boy be forgotten.
This is the sort of socially conscious, emotionally driven miniseries that used to be a staple of broadcast TV before the format drifted to cable and, more recently, to streaming. While Women isn’t particularly adventurous in its by-the-history-books storytelling, Tony winner Adrienne Warren (Tina Turner in Tina) grounds the series with a powerfully impassioned performance as Mamie, a doting single mother facing her worst nightmare after she lets her beloved Emmett (earnest, exuberant Cedric Joe) travel from progressive Chicago to Mississippi to visit his uncle in August 1955.
(Credit: ABC/Matthew Sayles)
“You keep your whole head down,” she warns Emmett before he leaves. But that’s not his style, and when he fails to show proper humility to a white female shopkeeper in the Jim Crow South, his fate is sealed. The circumstances of his murder by vengeful racists are horrible, but Movement only truly begins once Mamie maneuvers to retrieve and ship his disfigured body back home, where she insists on a public wake and an open casket that would be viewed by more than 10,000 spectators.
“I want them to see what was taken from me,” Mamie declares, as young Emmett becomes a viscerally visible symbol of racism’s evil. The ensuing trial, before an all-white jury in a courthouse with no “colored” restrooms, is as infuriating to watch as it is laboriously dramatized over several episodes. While Mamie’s frustration grows, she is urged by NAACP supporters to “just keep showing up.” Local civil rights leader Dr. T.R.M. Howard (Alex Désert) reminds her, “You are showing them that we do feel, that we…love like them.”
That much is never in doubt as Warren depicts Mamie’s evolution into a public figure, embarking on a speaking tour to control the narrative. She eventually begins to feel left behind when activists like Rosa Parks enter the scene, but no one could doubt Mamie played her part, ensuring that Emmett Till’s name endures well beyond those who so savagely took his life.
Women of the Movement, Limited Series Premiere, Thursday, January 6, 8/7c, ABC