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Keith Beauchamp's Unwavering Quest: Telling The Life Of Emmett Till On Film

Ever since he was a young boy, Keith Beauchamp has been both fascinated and repelled by the story of the lynching of young Emmett Till. At first, he vowed to become an attorney so he could fight for civil rights, but by the time he got to college, Beauchamp realized his activism would be best served by making movies.


"If white supremacy doesn't sleep, I will never have a night's sleep. I have to find a way to continue to fight."--Keith Beauchamp

After 20 years and the full support of Till's mother, Mamie, Beauchamp finally realized his dream: the critically acclaimed feature film Till.


Keith Beauchamp talked with Marcie and Vivian about his dedication to this story, about his work as an activist filmmaker, and about the stories he still wants to tell.




Attractive middle-aged Black man with bald head and greying beard smiles at the camera in a stylish black suit and tie and white collared shirt
Filmmaker + Activist Keith Beauchamp


ABOUT THIS EPISODE'S GUEST


Award-winning filmmaker Keith A. Beauchamp attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he studied Criminal Justice with the intention of becoming a Civil Rights Attorney. As a young boy in Baton Rouge, Beauchamp had his share of run-ins with racism, but it wasn’t until an incident where he was assaulted by an undercover police officer after dancing with a white classmate at a party that he felt compelled to fight racism. In the fall of 1997, Beauchamp relocated from Baton Rouge to New York, where he quickly found work at Big Baby Films, a company founded by childhood friends focused on music video and film production. It was here that he could pursue another dream of becoming a filmmaker. And through this feat, attempt to remedy some of the past and present injustices that plague communities here in the United States and abroad. Beauchamp honed his behind-the-camera skills during the day and spent his evenings researching and locating anyone who might have information on the Emmett Till case, a story told to Beauchamp when he was just ten years old. It was at this tender age that


Beauchamp saw a Jet magazine that contained a picture of Emmett Till’s dead body and was told the story behind the horrific murder. In 1999, Beauchamp founded Till Freedom Come Productions, a company devoted to socially significant projects that can both teach and entertain. He has devoted the past twenty-nine years of his life to telling the story of Emmett Till and has traveled extensively between New York, Chicago, and Mississippi to investigate the historic murder. During this journey, Beauchamp befriended the late Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley, who took him under her wings and inspired him to join her ongoing efforts to seek justice in her son’s case. As a result of their close relationship, Beauchamp would produce and direct the award-winning documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, while persistently lobbying both the State of Mississippi and the Federal Government to reopen the Emmett Till Murder case.


On May 10th, 2004, the United States Department of Justice re-opened the nearly 50-year-old murder case citing Beauchamp’s documentary, which was later released in 2005, as both a major factor in their decision and the starting point for their investigation. In 2005, Emmett Till’s body was exhumed, and in 2006, the FBI handed over evidence to the Leflore County District Attorney in Mississippi. Sadly, in 2007, a Mississippi Grand Jury decided not to indict the remaining suspects in the case. That same year, Beauchamp began his collaboration with the FBI’s Till-inspired Civil Rights “Cold Case” Initiative, producing documentaries on other unsolved civil rights murders in hopes of helping federal agents with their investigations that could bring remaining perpetrators to justice.


After what would be almost a two-decade-long friendship, producers Barbara Broccoli, Fred Zollo, EGOT winner Whoopi Goldberg, and Beauchamp would team up to finally produce the greatly anticipated theatrical feature film, Till, directed by award-winning director Chinonye Chukwu.


Beauchamp has been featured on 60 Minutes, ABC World News Tonight 'Person of the Week’ MSNBC, 'Good Morning America,' CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera, as well as in hundreds of publications around the world, including The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press, the Chicago Sun-Times, and Time Magazine to name a few.


Beauchamp’s past works include TV One’s 'Murder in Black and White' hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton, 'Wanted Justice: Johnnie Mae Chappell’ for the History Channel, ‘BET’s Exceptional Black Women’ and the award-winning crime reality series, “The Injustice Files,” produced by CBS News where he served as the Executive Producer and Host.


Beauchamp is also a frequent lecturer at colleges and universities around the country.


 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:00):

Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips.


MARCIE SILLMAN (00:01):

And I'm Marcie Sillman. And this is, doubleXposure DoubleXposure <laugh>


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:16):

DoubleXposure is a podcast where we've formed the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.


MARCIE SILLMAN (00:27):

Welcome to our third season. We start with a conversation with filmmaker Keith Beauchamp.

Vivian, it's wonderful to see you back from a sojourn in Africa back in Seattle.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:52):

Yeah, it's good to be back. Um, but it was a wonderful opportunity to once again visit my second home. <laugh> in, uh, Ghana.


MARCIE SILLMAN (01:04):

You go there quite a bit to Africa, don't you?


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:07):

I have been fortunate enough to have made a number of sojourns to the continent of Africa, and I am ever grateful for that opportunity. So it's starting to look like I'm making it back there a couple of times a year, which used to be the case as a part of the work that I was doing for a long time. But I'm feeling really grateful at this moment. Also, a bit of interesting synergy around the fact that we spoke with Keith Beauchamp on Juneteenth. He had just come back too, from Ghana, his very first trip to the continent of Africa, which he speaks about in his interview with us, visiting Ghana and Liberia. But we are speaking today on what would've been the 82nd birthday of Emmett Till. And it's also the day that President Biden has signed into being, the potential for a national monument to be erected in the honor of Emmett Till and Mamie Till in Illinois and Mississippi. There's a lot of synergy I am feeling right now.


MARCIE SILLMAN (02:21):

It is kind of amazing. And these were all happenstance. We didn't plan it that way, not at all, but just for people who are saying Emmett Till that name is familiar, if you did not see the movie Till, which Keith Beauchamp produced, Emmett Till was a 15 year old from Chicago, when in 1955 he went down to visit family in Mississippi for a summer vacation, as one does in the summer. And a couple of white men lynch, disfigure, maim, and destroy this, this young boy. And then his mother Mamie insisted that the world see what had happened to her son. And she insisted on an open casket funeral. And many people, Keith Beauchamp included, count this is really the spark of the 20th century civil rights movement.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (03:13):

I will admit to having not watched the movie when we spoke to, to Keith. And it's one of those things where it's, it's just like I just, I can't do it. I just couldn't do it. But on the airplane, on the way to Ghana <laugh>, the movie was available and I did watch it. And at the same time that I was away, I was reading Henry Lewis Gate's book, Stony the Road. So it was more synergy, right? Because in the movie we see, and this is, you know, it's not gonna be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't seen the movie, but in the movie we see Emmett Till gaze upon this white woman whose name Carolyn Bryant Dunham and says to her, you look like a movie star. And supposedly he whistles at her, which is what prompted, um, him being abducted from his cousin's home by the KKK or members of the KKK and taken and beaten and killed. And, you know, maimed horribly. In Henry Lewis Gate's book, he speaks about the unquestionable innocence of white women. And I just thought, oh, all of this connects together. And I think that's what prompted the 16-year-old Till to lose his life.


MARCIE SILLMAN (04:45):

This is actually the second film that Keith has made about Emmett Till. I believe it was some 20 years ago, that he invested his passion about this subject into a documentary. And that documentary changed the course of history. There's no other way to say it. It prompted the exhumation of Emmett's body, an investigation into the two men that were accused. I believe that they had both passed on at that point, but they had admitted their guilt and it was ignored. And the power of this man's, uh, drive, Keith's drive to make this public and to right wrongs through filmmaking is just astonishing. And plus, he's such a lovely human being to talk to.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (05:35):

That’s true. I, you know, I was thinking about the fact that, you know, we are familiar with that saying people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, right? And he speaks about the way in which Mother Mamie Till, Mother Till he calls her, became a mentor and a bit of a artistic muse, and gave him some really significant guidance where out of failure to make a feature length film, he made a documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Till, and then continued on that journey. So it's just a real honor to get to sit and chat with Keith and have him share more about his journey on the making of Till.


Keith Beauchamp, it is so incredibly wonderful to have you join us today. We're actually talking on Juneteenth, which I think is also significant and very special, and we just wanna say thank you so much, Keith. I know you as a documentary maker and Till is your first feature film, correct?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (06:42):

That's correct.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(06:43):

So for people who aren't into the movies, tell us a little bit about that particular movie, Till


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (06:50):

Wow, Till <laugh> Till has been a very big part of my life since I was 10 years old. And of course, later in my adult years, I was able to meet Emmett Till's mother, who became my friend confidant and my mentor for eight and a half years. And that's why this film was actually made, it was a story that I felt that needed to be told. It was a story that was told to me as a child, and I knew the importance of making sure that this history doesn't be as a, a thing of a past, I should say. It was very important to tell this story because I believe there's no story that speaks more to this generation political and racial climate than the story of Emmett Lewis Till. And so my journey began, and I, I think it's important for your listeners to understand how I got started with this process.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (07:48):

But my journey began when I was 10 years old. I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was in my parents' study when I came across an old Jet magazine that they kept over the years. And as I opened the pages, I discovered the story of Emmett Lewis till on one side of the page, there's this angelic face of this young little boy sort of mirror image of myself at that time. And then on this other side of this page, there's this horrific face of this monster. I could not really wrap my head around what I was looking at. And just so happened my parents was walking by the study. My mother looked in on me and she saw me with my mouth wide open. And then she walks over, looks over my shoulder, and she finds I discovered that horrific photograph of Emmett Till.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (08:33):

She then looks at my father, calls him into the study, and they looked at each other and said, I think it's time to tell him the story. So they told me the story the way that they knew it, but throughout my life, the name of Emmett Till kept resurfacing. When I got into high school, I was interracially dating, and the first thing my parents would tell me before I left the house at night was, don't let what happened to Emmett Till happened to you. So it became this educational story, this boogeyman story, to teach me about the racism that still exists throughout the deep South. But it wasn't until two weeks before my high school graduation where I had my real run in, I would call it, with racism. And that was when I was assaulted by the police officer for dancing with a white classmate of mine.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (09:19):

And of course, it was at that moment I felt the need to fight injustice, but I felt the only way that could ever be possible is becoming a part of a system that would help me come back, this social ill. And of course, I decided to study criminal justice at Southern University of Baton Rouge in hopes becoming a civil rights attorney. And then towards my junior year of college, I was introduced to filmmaking by my best friend who had moved to New York City, uh, began working with his sister and her film production company, and that's how it was introduced to filmmaking.


MARCIE SILLMAN (09:53):

I gotta jump in there, because you were so dedicated to this idea of pursuing this legal avenue, being part of this system, how did the craft of filmmaking take that place? I mean, you were introduced to it, but how did you in your mind say, this is the way I'm gonna address these, these injustices?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (10:15):

You know what's amazing, Marcie? I didn't quite understand the path that I would take. You know, I, I believe that the creator sets you off on a certain path and you rediscover yourself along the way, and you take another <laugh>, you know, path. But you know, I, I like to say this to everyone because anyone who knows me would, would tell you. Keith often refers to himself as a unintentional filmmaker. I didn't search for filmmaking, filmmaking fell in my lap. And after my best friend moved to New York, I mean, I did what every best friend would wanna do. He would wanna go with his friend. I told my parents, look, hey, let me sit out a couple of semesters. Let me see what my, my best friend Jay is doing. You know, I, maybe it's something I'll be interested in, I didn't know, but I wanted my parents, I convinced them to allow me to sit out a couple of semesters because I told them that if it didn't work out for me, I'll go back to grad school, finish up grad school, go to law school as planned.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (11:19):

But it was at a company meeting, I was asked if there was a story that I would want to tell as a feature film, not a documentary, but as a feature film, what would that be? And of course, Till came to mind. So early on, I set out to produce a movie on the Emmett Till story. And then I met Emmett Till's mother in 1995. Um, we first talked over the phone, and then I eventually met her face to face in 1996, and that's when my journey began telling the story because she, she became my biggest inspiration in dedicating my life to telling the story of Emmett Till and fighting for justice


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(12:04):

For, I think we hear about people who have had ideas for films or, you know, have scripts and that sort of thing. And it's maybe 10, 15 years that's, you know, it sits on the shelf essentially, and then they, they bring it to fruition. This has not just been a project for you. This has been a life's calling. I mean, you talk about meeting Mamie Till in the nineties, you've been working on this story, and as a result of the work that you've been doing, some new things have been unlocked that may not have before. Talk a little bit about that part too.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (12:45):

It's, it's, it's interesting, you know, um, when one goes on the journey, you don't know how that journey will end. You just try to dodge the obstacles that come your way. You really don't know the actual path. Now you gotta understand, I was in my early twenties when I met, met the late Mrs. Mamie Till-Mobley Mother Mobley, I call her. And so she came into my life at a point in time where I, I was really looking for direction and looking on how I can leave my indelible mark in the world. At the time, you know, we were having some of the similar conversations that we have today about appropriation, people who are telling our stories, who are the right folks to tell our stories and so on. So when I set out and made the decision to produce a film, didn't know if it was gonna be a documentary or what, but it, I set out to produce the feature first.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (13:43):

And it's because of my failure at trying to produce the feature film, The Untold Story was brought to life. And that came out of an eight and a half relationship with Mother Mobley. And I, she encouraged me because I had a failed attempt at producing the feature film to produce the documentary, to use it as a stepping stone to possibly get the case reopened. And she always said to me when that is done, she believed that I was gonna have a second opportunity to tell the story. So if not for Mother Mobley, making that decision, as well as my parents, because my parents gave me the money I was supposed to go to law school with, to produce The Untold Story. So when after they gave me my, the money that I <laugh>, you know, I was to use for my, to further my education, I didn't have a choice at that point. I didn't wanna fail anyone. And, but, uh, by the grace of God, it all worked in my favor. And of course, my life has come full circle in the past few years to be able to tell the story as a feature film.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(14:54):

Yours is an untold story. <laugh> <laugh>,


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (14:57):

Yeah. So a lot happened, you know, with The Untold Story, thank God we were able to prompt the federal government to reopen the case nearly 50 years later. And then I became a part of the Till investigation throughout the 2004 all the way to 2007. So it's, it was really a life changing experience. And it also showed me the importance of filmmaking and how filmmaking is my activism tool. I may not have become an attorney, but now I live and I have the best of both worlds because now I do so much work, legal, work surrounding, um, you know, the things that I produce and so on.


MARCIE SILLMAN (15:37):

I have to follow up a second, because you were so set in initially on feature films, right? Hollywood is like, defines a lot of American culture. So I'm curious what you can do in a feature film that you couldn't have done. You did so much with that first documentary and you have continued to pursue documentary films and use that. So what's the difference in terms of, of having an outcome and the activism that you have?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (16:07):

Well, in narrative filmmaking, more people would be more, um, how should I say, interested in seeing a feature film rather than a documentary. And, you know, that'd been my battle the whole time as a filmmaker, but I knew that the feature was something that had a had to be done. Mother Mobley herself fought for 47 years, not only to get justice for her son, but she also fought to get her story on the big screen because she knew that if we were able to get her story produced as a feature film and put it in theaters, that it was, it was gonna reach a lot more people. Now, Untold Story wasn't their theaters, but a lot of people said, I was ahead of my time. You know, people wasn't embracing documentaries like that when I first started, but, um, the feature film was something that I felt that need to be conquered because the Till story, um, in the world of Hollywood, it was a story that people have fought to make for 67 years. You know, everyone from William Bradford Huie, the reporter, um, that interviewed Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam and got them to confess in 1955, all the way to, wow, Rod Shirley, Steven Spielberg, all these people have tried to produce a film on Till at some point in their careers, but were unsuccessful in doing.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(17:40):

I I hate to interrupt you, but let's cut to the chase. How did you get it made? <laugh> <laugh>. How did you go about cut? Because I know there's some big names behind there. Yes, yes, yes. And I'm also familiar with the fact that you did The Untold Story, you know, you did the whole festival circuit and Yes. And all of that, which I assume supported the final producing. But, but tell us how you got that film finally made to the big screen.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (18:08):

You know, I, I, I would have to say teaming up with Fred Zollo, who produced Mississippi Burning, Ghosts of Mississippi, right after the Till Case reopened in 2004. He saw a 60 Minutes piece about my journey, and he reached out to me and he wanted to see if we could have a conversation about producing Till together. Till was to be his trilogy film of Mississippi Films, but we call it his trilogy <laugh>. And of course, till is a story that I, I wanted to tell for a very long time. And so with Fred Zollo, of course, we have Thomas Levine, who was also a producing partner to Fred Zollo, um, from Paramount from Hollywood. They both reached out to me at the same time, and I sat down with them and told them that I will be willing to go on this journey with them. And with Fred Zollo, I inherited the great Barbara Broccoli and of course the amazing Whoopi Goldberg. And that was the team that have embraced me close to 20 years, Vivian. You know, every, everyone has been in my life for close to 20 years. It had taken us that long to produce till it was 29 years of my life that has taken, to get to this point.


MARCIE SILLMAN (19:33):

I'm gonna ask a really dumb question. We know what a director does. We know what the screenwriter does. Can you explain to me what the producer does?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (19:43):

Well, the producer is the person in charge. Ah, um, he does the hiring and, and he puts all the creative folks together to make this gumbo of a film. He has a lot, and I had a lot more hands on because I was a co-writer on the script as well. And so that's what a producer does, but also


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(20:03):

But also responsible for raising the money. <laugh>, no.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (20:08):

Yes. And as Exec, well, I didn't have that struggle thanks to Bar the great Barbara Broccoli. Okay. I mean James Bond franchise, right? Yeah. But no, um, Alana Mayo at MGM Orion saw the production and, and also felt the importance of getting this film out. And, you know, she's the first woman of color to ever, you know, put a film like this out and I mean, and of Orion Pictures. And so we had that kind of support and that support is what we needed to get Till made finally.


MARCIE SILLMAN (20:44):

One of the things that I was reading about your long journey to get this feature film produced was, and you mentioned a bit earlier, was having the right people to tell the story and trusting, I mean, you were helping to write it, but you were looking for a particular kind of director. You were looking for certain types of people. So explain exactly, I I guess the, the deep ethics that you had. I mean, I don't think of Holly, no offense, I don't think of Hollywood films as being based on deep, deep ethical concerns, but that was important to you. So how did you find the partners, the artistic partners? Mm-hmm.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (21:23):

<affirmative>, Finding a director was a collaborative effort. I'm the youngest out of the partnership of Fred, Barbara, Whoopi. So, you know, I have a voice, but I have to scream for my voice to be heard <laugh> because it's iconic people. But outside of that, it was a collaborative effort. We, um, early on Whoopi wanted to direct, I wanted to direct, and then of course, everybody, you know, sat down and we, we said it would be important to get a woman of color, a black woman to direct this film. And that was the only way that I would step back to allow a black woman to come in to, to tell the story of, of Till not only having a black director, but a black woman lead. And that was important. The optics was perfect, uh, for it to happen. We had a great director at Chinonye Chukwu, who knew the material, knew the importance of telling this story. And so having someone who was just as passionate that I am about the story and, and of, of course, the collective, I would say the way we all felt about telling the story was just perfect. It was the perfect timing. And, you know, it wasn't a easy process. I mean, we shot in the middle of Covid. So,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(22:40):

Yes. And that, assuming that probably added more expenses as well too.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (22:46):

And added more expensive and more stress. But we all understood the importance of telling this story and how it had to be told right now. And so we were able to achieve the goal and make the film.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(23:00):

And with the utmost integrity.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (23:02):

Yes, yes. That was important


MARCIE SILLMAN (23:04):

Because this is centered so much on Mamie Till, I mean, this is told through her eyes, you found Danielle Deadwyler, uh, an amazing actress to play this role. She did an amazing job. The film was well received by audiences, by critics. And yet when the big Oscar, you know, yeah, you were completely shut out. And I wonder if you were surprised? Other people were surprised.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (23:34):

You know, Marcie, it wasn't the first time. I mean, I was shut out with Untold Story. You know, everyone told me I was gonna make the short list and get nominated, and I made the short list. But now no nominations <laugh>, you know, but no, really, I don't tell films for awards. I, I think I got past that a long time ago. Anybody that follows my body of work understand that Keith is the person that deals with the untold stories. And so whatever I choose, it's always a challenge to get made or even to just be seen, you know? But I know the importance of making these films. It, it has to be made. And so in terms of, you know, being shut out of the Oscars, watching us get accolades for everything else, in fact, we had the number one film in terms of reviews in 2022 over everybody's <laugh>, you know, all the blockbusters. But you know, when you look at just the overall structure of the Oscars, uh, when you look at the demographic of the Oscars, you are made aware quickly what could possibly happen and what possibly cannot. And I, I'm trying to say that in a nice way because


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(24:54):

You're being very kind and I'm not gonna be kind.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (24:58):

We want, we want,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(25:00):

Yeah.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (25:01):

We want to believe, that, um, the academies are, are, are different from what the way they used to be. And they're not. It's unfortunately, we have a long, long way to go. Well, Keith, when it comes


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(25:12):

To the Academy, you know, I think you are probably amid a number of individuals, or the majority probably, who are not making films to win awards in this kind, this kind of film. That's not what we're getting at <laugh>. We're pretty clear that that's not the case. But I think, you know, we went through this whole process of the “Oscars so white,” right? But I think that having Till shut out as well as Woman King, that beautifully directed piece, Gina Prince-Bythewood direction was just incredible. It revealed something else about what's really going on with Oscar nominations and Oscar wins. And I think it was with Till that many of us learned that there are campaigns that surround Oscar nominations, and it has little, if anything, to do with the way in which we as audiences receive films. So I guess, you know, you may have already been aware of that, but that was new information, I think for a lot of us. So why does even an Oscar matter now that we know the this about it?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (26:26):

You are right, Vivian, but you know, it's, it's unfortunate that the Oscars have always been the place everyone wanted to go. It's the big dance, everyone who wants to win the big dance, I get that. What hurt me so much was the great work that, um, Danielle did, Waller did to play my mentor and friend her role. I mean, she outperformed, and I've seen many of the films. She outperformed a lot of people. Could it be the taste of the film? You could argue that. But also, you know, with the work that I do, being an activist filmmaker, I am quite aware of the terrain that I'm in. And I mean, by what I mean by terrain, we're living in this anti-wokeness environment. We're simply lucky, even though it was destined to get the film made, that's a big, you know, achievement within itself.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (27:24):

Seeing a film like Till made that many have tried to make for 67 years, I just thought that Danielle would receive acknowledgment because of the merit of the work she had done. And she didn't. And that crushed me, didn't crush her <laugh>, when we had our conversation, she was like, oh, Keith, you know the system. Why are you mad at the system that you know? And so I had to check myself and realized that, you know, we still have a long way to go, but I actually hope that because of Till was, you know, been made because we were able to achieve this great goal, that it will just keep the door open just a little longer for other filmmakers to get these stories out there. That's the biggest thing for me.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(28:21):

Our music is courtesy of Big World Breaks, many thanks.


MARCIE SILLMAN (28:25):

And this year we welcome our sponsor, LANGSTON, cultivating Black Brilliance from their home at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Historic Central District.


MARCIE SILLMAN (28:45):

You were talking about this climate of anti-wokeness. When you really got into this film full-fledged, it was just post George Floyd and it was wokeness. I mean, people were at least talking a talk. And so that's a pretty short window. I remember having conversations with people saying, we've gotta do what we can do while the door is open before the door closed. On our podcast, Vivian and I have had many conversations about the work that needs to happen to make real change, to not just put your toe through when that door gets open. So you can't just let it roll off your shoulders all the time. What do you wanna see happen so that the door stays open or it opens wider for more movies to get made?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (29:32):

Well, you know, you are speaking to an activist first, and then I became a filmmaker. 'cause filmmaker just became my activism tool. Those of us who've chosen to do this work know that it takes a lot for us to endure, to continue to ongoing fight for freedom and justice in this country, you know, in civil and human rights. So when you've dedicated your life to this particular cause, you know that you are in it for the long haul. It's not that I'm giving up or, um, I'm not positive about things ahead. I've come to find out a long time ago with the work that I do, not just on Till, but many, the civil rights murder cases that I've worked on, you learn along the way the importance of continuous, this ongoing fight. Because that's the only thing you have. I think Amiri Baraka says, at best, there's no justice in America, it is the pursuit of justice that sustains you.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (30:35):

That's wha I live by every day. It's that good in us, that part of us, that little small window of good that we all believe we have, that keeps us going along the way. So I know I'm supposed to endure everything that's coming to me, and I just believe there's a time and season for all things. If you are a God-fearing person, you believe in a good book, it tells you there's a time and season for all things. You know, you just have to continue to endure this ongoing fight until things begin to change. And so, it's through my work, it's through through knowing Mother Mobley and what she fought her life doing, knowing that Emmett was the catalyst that sparked the American Civil Rights Movement. These things I feel are so important for us today. Because, you know, after George Floyd, the Ahmaud Arbery, uh, Breonna Taylor, we've all been longing for a new movement of change.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (31:36):

We all went through the whole Black Lives Matter movement. We thought that it would be enough to cause change in this country, but we didn't quite get there. But this is why Mother Mobley wanted this story told time and time again about her son and why I dedicated myself to this specific subject. Because she would often say to me, for the longest time, and I didn't quite understand what she was saying, but she would say to me, Keith, you must continuously tell Emmett's story and tell man's consciousness has risen only then that would mean justice for Emmett Till. And I, I didn't know, you know, I'm this young kid, I'm trying to, you know, this iconic woman, and she's telling me these great lines. I don't wanna fail her. I didn't quite understand what she was saying until probably two decades ago. And I realized what she was telling me was, no matter how long I fight, no matter how hard I fight to get justice for Emmett, I may even attain be able to get courtroom justice.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (32:35):

But it's not gonna stop all the Emmett Tills of the world from happening. And so what we are seeing on the streets of America, we hear about the slaughter of black and brown people, whether it's at the hands of those who are sworn in to protect us or at the hands of white supremacists. Those are the Emmett Tills of today. And so, going back to Mother Mobley's story, and Till with Emmett being the catalyst that sparked the American Civil Rights Movement, if we could arguably say that the Civil Rights movement was the greatest movement ever produced by citizens of this country, the most successful movement of any day, then you must go back and understand what transpired in 1955 with the lynching of Emmett Till and the courageousness of his mother to truly understand where we must go in this country.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(33:28):

You've dedicated, I mean, what three decades like of your life?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (33:33):

Yes <laugh>,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(33:33):

To this particular story you mentioned that there are other cases that you've been involved in. I'm curious. I mean, if you have 6, 7, 8 more decades in you, I'm happy about it. But, but I'm curious about, you know, where you see yourself in the next project. Where will your activism as a film and documentary maker take you next? And do you think that, you know, the partnership that you had with Hollywood, I'm just gonna, you know, say Hollywood, can be sustained or if there's even that kind of interest, or are we just doomed to a future of rom-coms and science fiction?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (34:21):

There's filmmakers out there that entertain you, and that's good, but that's not what I do. When I pick a story, when I tell a story, I pick up a camera. It has to be something that's gonna be worthwhile for me. It's gotta be something that's gonna be impactful and that's gonna cause change in any way. And if you look at my whole body of work, that's all I've been doing. I play my role that works for me, that allows me to tell the story, the untold stories or the stories of the voiceless to help elevate mankind. That's what I like to do. I, I won't do just plain entertainment stuff. It's just not in me to do it. You know, there's a lot of, lot of stories. I haven't reached my full potential yet. Vivian, you know me for a long time. I haven't reached my full potential yet. And I keep fighting myself about that because I'm doing great work, but I'm not doing what I believe that I am destined to do as of yet. So all this that has happened, I am grateful, extremely grateful. I'm grateful for all the accolades and being in, in this position to tell these stories. But until I reach my full potential, I won't feel hope. So I will continue to tell these stories until I can't tell Till anymore.


MARCIE SILLMAN (35:41):

Are you working on a, a new project at the moment? <laugh>?


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (35:46):

I'm working on multiple projects at the moment.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (35:49):

Can you give us any hints? <laugh>,


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (35:51):

I could tell you that most recent I'm working on with Dr. Spirit Clanton. She's a phenomenal, um, therapist. And she was a therapist on Till, by the way, uh, for the whole production. 'cause we had a therapist on set for everyone. She came to me about her dream project, which is to travel the world and to show how the mental health crisis is handled. And so I had just come from my trip from Africa, first time in Africa, went to Ghana and Liberia. And it was a really, uh, the most humbling, but the most inspiring experience ever had in my life. And I just did not realize how much their mental health crisis is just destroying the world at this point. I mean, it's not acknowledged like it is here. And you know, and I won't say we are perfect in acknowledging the mental health crisis, but around the world, it's, it's a little different. And I'm getting a taste of it, and I'm understanding more about my makeup as a black person in America. I realize that I deal with inconveniences, um, not problems, you know what I'm saying? And so that has opened my eyes and have energized me to do more of the work and to continue to fight.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(37:22):

So one of the questions that Marcie and I had was, you know, we were curious about whether or not you would consider taking on things that have a little less societal heft to it. But it doesn't sound like that's your direction at all. I mean, I think this whole mental health issue is one that can uncover a lot about That's right. Both the wokeness and the anti-wokeness world, if you will. Wow.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (37:52):

That's right. It's one of the greatest experiences I had next to, uh, my journey with Till. And I, I believe that it's, it's going to breathe new life in me because I need to be doing more than what I've done. I I just, you know,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(38:05):

You've done a lot.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (38:07):

When you look at, and I'm only paraphrasing, um, James Baldwin quote, he talks about misery and pain. You know, he talks about you think your misery and pain is unprecedented and the thought of the world of something to that extent. And then you read. But after going to Africa and experience what I just experienced, I have to change that. And then you see.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(38:31):

Well there might be time for another really good trans-Atlantic slave. I'm just saying, you know, uh, uh, Sankofa is, you know, way in the rear view mirror. It might be the right time for you.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (38:44):

That's right. Um, it's just a lot to discuss. But, um, I am very happy about my future now. Getting Till done was the biggest thing that I've ever wanted to do. And so now that it's done, I have a lot of burden lift off my shoulders. And I feel now I can move on and do more of the work.


MARCIE SILLMAN (39:05):

I want to thank you for taking time. Your work and your persistence and your dedication to this is just inspiring. And I really thank you for that. You've uplifted me today in this conversation.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (39:19):

Oh, thank you, Marcie. I mean, this is very therapeutic for me. I don't get a chance to talk about this journey until I do interviews such as this or I go lecture and, and things of that nature. You know, I wake up in the morning thinking of Emmett Till, go to bed at night, thinking of Emmett Till. My life hasn't changed in over close to 30 years now. You know, we have a long way to go. And as I mentioned, we are living now in a state of an anti-wokeness environment, which I don't think people are truly aware of. You know, we hear DeSantis and others with their anti-wokeness movement, but now it has now left the political realm of things and have gravitated to more into popular culture. And that's something that we need to truly be aware of. If white supremacy doesn't sleep, I would never have a a night's sleep. Yeah. I have to continue to fight and be on the forefront against this movement.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (40:17):

Well, we know that an anti-wokeness is just another word for anti-blackness. And so I am so grateful to you personally, Keith, for taking time to spend with us today, but also so grateful that you stuck with this story and you got it told and that you're continuing to do this work. I so appreciate you.


KEITH BEAUCHAMP (40:41):

Thank you so much.


MARCIE SILLMAN (40:43):

Vivian. One of the things that really inspired me speaking to Keith was that this is a man who's all in on what he does. I mean, he says, if white supremacy doesn't sleep, I will never have a nice sleep. And he says it in this nice conversational tone, he's a warrior, but he's a creative warrior. And I just love that he's woven his quest to bring justice to this world with a creative outlet, with a drive that will not sleep.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(41:21):

It's honorable because he's, he is a quiet giant in many ways. You know, we were looking at the image of the signing of the, you know, declaration to establish these memorials to Emmett and Mamie Till, and it was like, is Keith in there <laugh>? He's not in there. Right? He's not in the picture. And he's not a flamboyant kind of person in any form or fashion. He is a quiet warrior, and he's exactly the kind of person that I think has what, what what I learned to be ‘sticktoitiveness’ and has just persevered and will continue to uncover new things for us to become aware of.


MARCIE SILLMAN (42:03):

He also is working on television documentaries along the same vein, on people that are seeking justice for people who are not as famous as Emmett Till or George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. So this is his calling. This is the work that he does. I was listening to him talk about being a movie producer, and I asked him that dumb question about what a producer does. Because when you talk about being a quiet warrior, a producer, they do get their name right up there. And if, if there's an award to be won, they win it. But they're not the director, they're not the star, they're not, although Keith did co-write the script, but, those are the ones that we think of as, as the creative drivers. But in fact, it's the person behind all that creative driving who's making the project come to life. And that was Keith.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(42:56):

And he absolutely pulled in some new producers that were heavyweights and helped to get this done. So, you know, I was fascinated too, because when he said that Whoopi Goldberg and…


MARCIE SILLMAN (43:09):

Barbara Broccoli Yeah,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(43:10):

Yeah. That they have been working on this for 20 years. He's not an overnight success by any stretch of the mu <laugh> imagination. Right. And the, the snubbing of Danielle Detweiler <laugh> is just beyond, um, understanding.


MARCIE SILLMAN (43:31):

Yeah


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(43:32):

She was fantastic.


MARCIE SILLMAN (43:33):

And by the way, till was in the theaters for like a hot second. It wasn't a movie that hung around. It's not a Marvel comic, it's not Iron Man or anything like that. Right. It's actually Iron Woman. 'cause


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(43:47):

<laugh>


MARCIE SILLMAN (43:47):

Mamie Till-Mobley was Iron Woman and getting justice for her son. But, um, not in the way that Hollywood franchises think about that. And the other really interesting thing that Keith said was that there's filmmakers out there that entertain you. And that's good. That's not what I do. All hats off to Keith Beauchamp. We're so grateful that he was able to speak to us from New York, which is where he makes his home.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(44:12):

Such a pleasure. I'm just so grateful. I hope that, um, people learn something new about not just the movie, but about Emmett Till the circumstances surrounding his death and what that meant to the trajectory of civil rights in America.


MARCIE SILLMAN (44:33):

And I'm so delighted because have been editing like crazy and I've been so excited by the people that we're speaking with. And to have Keith with us, it couldn't be better. So grateful.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(44:54):

It's an exciting season and I hope that people who are listening to stay with us 'cause we've got some really good surprises up our sleeves.


MARCIE SILLMAN (45:05):

Thanks for listening today. DoubleXposure’s Executive Producers are me, Marcie Sillman,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS(45:15):

And me Vivian Phillips. Associate Producer Hilary Northcraft.


MARCIE SILLMAN (45:20):

If you like what you're hearing on this episode of doubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website, doubleXposurepod.com.


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