Keith Beauchamp, producer and writer of 'Till' film, visits FSU a week ahead of world premiere

Tarah Jean
Tallahassee Democrat

Award-winning filmmaker Keith Beauchamp’s strong ties to Florida State University were further proven during his visit to campus a week ahead of the “Till” movie’s world premiere.

FSU was the first stop on his college tour after the new movie's completion. 

“Filmmaking to me is a new wave of activism,” Beauchamp said to a group of students in filmmaking Monday. “Nothing hits you more than a visual, and it was the visual of Emmett Till that I saw at the age of 10 that inspired me to do this type of work — not as a filmmaker, but in terms of turning on that activism.”

After a long 27 years in the making, according to Beauchamp, the film being premiered at the New York Film Festival Oct. 1 prior to its release in theaters is about the relentlessness of Mamie Till Mobley as she pursued justice for her 14-year-old son Emmett Till after his death.

"This is a film to honor my shero and mentor Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley," Beauchamp said to the Tallahassee Democrat. "I get to resurrect someone whose voice sparked a movement for a new generation, and that's what I want people to witness."

The Till case involves the kidnapping and brutal lynching of Till, a Black teenager from Chicago who was visiting his cousins in August 1955. He was accused of wolf-whistling at a white woman, later to be identified as Carolyn Bryant Donham.

Beauchamp, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native who lives in New York, is a contributor to FSU’s Emmett Till Archives, which he used as a reference while working on the movie.

On top of his contributions to FSU and being a producer and co-writer of the upcoming “Till” film, he was also the director of the 2005 documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” which helped inspire the Justice Department to reopen the Till case in 2004. 

Beauchamp’s recent accomplishments also include his search team's discovery of Donham’s unserved arrest warrant in a Mississippi courthouse basement among thousands of files in late June, which charges Donham in Till’s 1955 kidnapping.

A Mississippi grand jury declined her indictment in August, with Donham still alive and currently in her 80s.

But hopeful that the discovery is one step closer to Till getting the justice he deserves, Beauchamp continues to have most of his work revolve around the murder which many have credited to be the catalyst that sparked the civil rights movement.

Award-winning filmmaker Keith Beauchamp (left) and FSU Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies Davis Houck (right) after Beauchamp speaks to students at Florida State University on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, about a week before the world premiere of the "Till" film.

More on the warrant:

Filmmaker received Emmitt Till's mother's blessing to make film

Beauchamp mentioned to the students that he received Mobley’s blessing before pursuing his vision of ensuring that Till’s story was being “told the right way.” He also explained what his relationship with Mobley was like. 

“It was 1996 when I finally met her face to face, and we really jelled quite quickly,” Beauchamp said. “She became an adoptive grandmother to me, and I've heard her say many times I became an adoptive son to her. That was our relationship for eight and a half years until she unfortunately passed away in 2003.”

Professor Davis Houck shows off some documents from his own research in the Emmett Till collection in the special collections room at Florida State's Strozier Library.

Mobley's role is played by actress Danielle Deadwyler in the film.

Beauchamp encouraged the FSU students to have passion, persistence and perseverance, no matter how hard it gets to be successful. 

"As a young and black aspiring filmmaker, it was truly enlightening and inspiring to hear Keith Beauchamp's story and the efforts he's made to get where he is today," FSU junior Krystel Sanon said. "Ultimately, I wish to create work that is as impactful as Keith's, and I look at his journey as a testament that it's possible for me to accomplish such."

Award-winning filmmaker Keith Beauchamp speaks to students at Florida State University on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, about a week before the world premiere of the "Till" film.

Beauchamp's past FSU visits include being a panelist at an Emmett Till Archives Lecture last year in the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall along with his close confidant Davis Houck, the FSU Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies. 

Houck is one of the country's leading scholars on the life and brutal death of Till and has been studying the case of Till's death for nearly 20 years. He is also a contributor to the Emmett Till Archives and has established the Emmett Till Lecture and Archives Fund to support further studies of Till’s history.

More on Emmett Till Archives:

Professor Davis Houck shows off some tapes from a filmmaker's research now housed in the Emmett Till collection in the special collections room at Florida State's Strozier Library.

“Hosting Keith at Florida State has become almost a yearly event for me,” said Houck, who sat in on Beauchamp’s campus visit Monday. “His work on the Till case is foundational, and his support of the Till archives by donating his countless materials is a great gift.”

Despite many years of working on the feature film and the documentary on Till's murder, Beauchamp feels like he’s just getting started, saying that things are now “falling in place” for him.

“Producing the feature film, my life has come full circle,” Beauchamp said. “I started off trying to produce the feature, and I've done probably 17 films now along the way,” he added. “So 17 films later, I get to go back to my passion to tell this story.” 

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the "Till" movie is starring Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Whoopi Goldberg, who is also one of the producers of the film, Frankie Faison and Haley Bennett.

Before the film’s world premiere at the New York Film Festival Oct. 1 and its release in theaters Oct. 14, other colleges that Beauchamp will visit during his tour include his alma mater Southern University, Texas Southern University and the University of Memphis.

"The story of Till encompasses all we're dealing with today," Beauchamp said. "I want people to be inspiring and to understand that the civil rights movement is a continuous movement that has never ended."

Contact Tarah Jean at tjean@tallahassee.com or follow her on twitter @tarahjean_. 

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