If you’ve seen Rob Underhill and Mike Wiley’s feature film, Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till, then chances are that the duo’s short film, This Was My Son, will feel more than a little familiar to you. Whereas Dar He tells the complete, tragic story of Emmett Till, with Wiley portraying all the people in the film in a tour de force performance, This Was My Son focuses in on the moment where Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till (Mike Wiley), recounts the experience of having to identify her murdered and mutilated child, the victim of race violence in 1950s Mississippi.
Where this short film succeeds in performance and emotion, it comes up short on context. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened to Emmett Till, and the history, then you’re missing out on some important information. You can grasp the emotions on a human level, and get enough from the dialogue to somewhat know the situation, but the full scenario is never explained in this short. Which is why the complete telling of the story, as Underhill and Wiley did with Dar He, works on a more consistently powerful level.
While I can’t say for certain, having not seen Dar He since I reviewed it a year ago, it feels like this was lifted directly from that film, or at least recreated to share the power of that piece in a shorter format. I can understand the re-purposing of the material in a practical sense; the short film is likely to find more eyes than the longer feature, and can entice the audience to find the larger film. In that way, this almost works as a highlight reel for the feature, as Wiley’s performance in this sequence is at its best.
At the end of the day, however, This Was My Son still pulses with its own strength, based on that singular performance by Mike Wiley, and is likely to make an emotional impact. I think, as a standalone piece, it could’ve done with some more context and history about Emmett Till, but the emotions still come through. And maybe that’s the best entry point to history; connect with the universal emotion of a mother grieving her dead son, and discover the facts of the past from there.
This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.