‘Til’: A Black Filmmaking History

How the filmmakers behind ‘Till’ depicted Black trauma without showing violence

‘Til’ is the first major feature-length film to center on the race-based shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

From its opening scene, ‘Til’ is the story of a young white man named Trayvon Martin who was walking down a Florida street when a neighborhood watch volunteer called police to report that Martin was walking too close to an intersection. Martin had no weapon and posed no threat to his neighborhood. He was later killed in a confrontation between an armed neighborhood watch volunteer and a security guard who was trying to stop him.

Martin’s death sparked protests across the nation and drew a range of reactions, some of them justified and others condemned. This was particularly true of the African-American community, who were outraged over the image of Martin as a stereotype of a kid walking home from a night out. ‘Til’ was also a product of the controversial Trayvon Martin film ‘School Telly’ (2010), directed by Spike Lee. But ‘Til’ was a very different film, and the way in which ‘Towel’ presented Martin’s death was different as well. But in many ways, ‘Til’ was an effort to represent a way of telling racially charged stories about violence against young Black men without showing the bloodlust and violence that accompanied them.

Before ‘Til’ premiered in 2010, there was already a long, and largely undocumented, history of Black filmmakers using violence to depict a Black story that wouldn’t get their names in the papers or get them arrested. In 1964, the African-American screenwriter T’Keyah Crystal Key wrote the story ‘P.B. (Pretty Brown Girl)’, which centered on a White woman who was raped and beaten by a Black man. She then seeks revenge by getting herself kidnapped and locked in a small room. The film was banned in Boston because a Black actor was cast in the lead role. ‘P.B.’ was also a product of the controversial ‘The Birth of a Nation’, a film directed by D.W. Griffith that was banned in Boston for showing a White man raping a Black woman.

In 1969, the playwright William Inge, whose screenplay for ‘The Star Chamber’ (1958) had been banned by Boston because of its title, wrote the screenplay ‘The Darker Side of Midnight’, which told the story of a Black woman who was raped by a White

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