“Women of the Movement” recounts the reality of hatred and racism in the past and present while spotlighting a grieving mother who opened the way for a brighter future.
The show is a planned anthology series that will highlight a different woman behind the Civil Rights Movement each season. Season one focuses on the infamous 1955 murder of a young African-American boy named Emmett Till (Cedric Joe) in Mississippi and the resulting trial that shook America.
The story is told from the perspective of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (Adrienne Warren), who courageously fought to expose the injustice behind her son’s death, and subsequently sparked the demand for Civil Rights.
First off, I want to get a few negatives out of the way. It’s a powerful story, but sometimes, the way it’s told doesn’t do it justice. The pacing could have definitely been tightened. There are too many side characters with no real relevance to the plot, and the finale dragged on for far too long.
The performances are also hit or miss for me, ranging from outstanding to unrealistic and wooden. However, at the end of the day, the important themes, character arcs and emotions still shine through.
I remember reading the story of Till back in eighth grade, and it has stuck with me ever since due to its vividly violent nature. While the show mostly steers clear of depicting the bloody details of his torture and murder onscreen, the reveal of Emmett’s body is quite shocking. The editing in this scene devastatingly juxtaposes past and present, cutting between Mamie lovingly holding newborn Emmett and tearfully examining his now disfigured, nearly unrecognizable body.
While gruesome, it’s necessary for the story, and probably could have even been leaned into further. The sheer evil and malice it would take to do this to a child are mind-boggling, and it ultimately serves as a powerful reminder of the atrocities that took place in our country less than 100 years ago, and the deep-seated hate that still rears its ugly head today.
Furthermore, the show points out one of human nature’s biggest flaws: our inclination to look out for our own self-interest, stick our heads in the sand and claim ignorance to the suffering around us. Mamie verbalizes this same philosophy in one of my favorite scenes of the show. She used to look down at the South, see the injustice and racism there, but turn a blind eye, believing she was safe in the North. The death of Emmett proved how wrong she was.
Throughout the show, we see Mamie and others around her begin to realize this isn’t a fight they can watch from the sidelines. Characters like Willie Reed put not just their livelihoods, but also their lives on the line for the cause of justice. This was the most powerful part of the show — seeing this selflessness bloom and begin to take root in the hearts of the people. It’s a powerful act of love and courage to risk your life for someone else for the sole fact that it’s right.
These courageous acts make the outcome of the trial all the more heartbreaking. It’s a tough watch, because the whole time, your heart hopes and longs for justice and truth to see the light of day, but deep down, your head knows it’s wishful thinking. It’s 1955 in the South, and, at the end of the day, there’s only one possible verdict.
“Women of the Movement” debuted on ABC this January and is currently streaming on Hulu. While not flawless, it’s a powerful, important story worth a watch.