My Nephew Emmett Review
My Nephew Emmett is a 2017 short film about a man who tries to protect his young nephew from two racist killers out for blood.
I’ve always been fortunate. My whole life. I remind myself of that even when I feel like I’m not, when something seems a challenge or letdown or worse. And I know it’s much more than the good person I’ve worked hard to become and the proper way I was raised. It’s the world I live in, one that has placed favor for centuries on being white. It’s why when I watch films such as Kevin Wilson Jr.‘s deeply affecting My Nephew Emmett, I know people of terrible hate like this exist but still seem so hard to believe. This is not who I am. How can it be anyone?
Movies have long tackled these racial themes, from the slave trade to civil rights and everything in-between and beyond. It’s never easy, and each are important, from the larger history of a people to the story of a single man. With My Nephew Emmett, it is that of a proud old uncle, a minister named Mose Wright (L.B. Williams). It’s 1955 Mississippi and his 14-year-old nephew Emmett (Joshua Wright) is in from Chicago, staying with him and his family in a small house outside of town. The boy is cityfolk and isn’t so aware of real life in these parts, so when Mose hears tell of the boy whistling at Carolyn Bryant, the young white wife of Roy Bryant, he knows things are going to get bad.
Based entirely on true life events, that many who study civil rights in America will certainly be familiar with, My Nephew Emmett is a 20-minute adaptation of Wilson Jr.s own play. It’s a compact story, told mostly in one location, that of Mose’s house, and is filmed from his point of view. Williams, who unfortunately succumbed to cancer after filming completed, is an imposing figure, a narrow, angular man with deep set eyes and a past drawn with heavy lines on his face. Mose is a man who understands the implications of an innocent whistle, knows the kind of people who would take offense to it, and knows the repercussions when caught. Wilson Jr. makes this clear without much dialogue, instead, allowing Williams to use his body and face to inform. From a moment in a warm bath to a lone vigil with a loaded shotgun, these desperately quiet moments wring a great deal of tension from the short experience. The imagery is haunting while the words wisely remain scarce.
Like any well-made topical film, especially in short format, My Nephew Emmett urges you to learn more, this made doubly so by a remarkably impactful last shot, one that strikes with unexpected resonance. This is a tragedy that had profound influence on the civil rights movement and criminal justice, the story and disturbing aftermath sweeping the country, leading to the involvement of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Wilson Jr. seems to understand the value and weight of this story, and does right by shining the light on Mose, whose courage in the months after the event earned him high praise.
There’s great significance of course in revisiting history, reminders that we are an evolving people with still very far to go. As sweeping social changes continue to challenge us today, films like My Nephew Emmett serve to enlighten and educate and perhaps that’s what’s best about the short film, it’s ability to do just that.
My Nephew Emmett Review
Movie description: My Nephew Emmett is a 2017 short film about a man who tries to protect his young nephew from two racist killers out for blood.
Director(s): Kevin Wilson Jr.
Actor(s): Jasmine Guy, Charlie Talbert, Dane Rhodes
Genre: Biographical, Short