Producer Keith Beauchamp is no stranger to the violent and unjust history of Emmett Till.
It was his Emmy-nominated film, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, which prompted the U.S. Justice Department to reopen the case in 2004. Since his production of Untold Keith has worked closely with the FBI, specifically its Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative, producing documentaries on other unsolved civil rights murders as the Executive Producer and Host of Investigation Discovery’s (ID) crime reality series, “The Injustice Files.”
To date, Beauchamp remains the only filmmaker to work closely with the Till family and is dedicated to sharing their heartbreak and their mission of advocating for change.
Now, he’s working on a feature-length drama he’s making about the life of Emmett Till.
“After dedicating two decades of my life seeking justice for Emmett Louis Till,” Beauchamp explains, “I’m truly excited and moved to finally bring his true story to the world.”
“Here is a story that is as much a part of American history as the Boston Tea Party and may stand as the greatest argument for getting rid of sanctioned racism,” adds Producer Whoopi Goldberg. “Emmett Till’s brutal death at the hands of ignorant, brutish people exposes the Jim Crow-era South that gave the implicit okay to uphold that kind of racism without any real fear of repercussions. Today, the return of rampant, unchallenged racism cries out for the telling of Emmett Till’s story again.”
The Sentinel sat down with Beauchamp to discuss his new ventures, and the legacy of Emmett Till.
Los Angeles Sentinel (LAS): What interested you in making a drama about Emmett Till, since you already did a documentary about him?
Keith Beauchamp (KB): My life/career has come full circle. I’ve always wanted to produce a feature on the Till case. In fact, that’s how my journey as a filmmaker started. The documentary, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” was my second vehicle to get the true story of Emmett Till out to the public. After gathering research, in 1998 I wrote a screenplay that was later optioned off by producers who had a deal with Showtime. Not knowing much about the industry, I felt that I gave my baby away because of the option period and the lack of interest in a Till film.
After I discovered vital information that I felt could be critical in the reopening of the case, I decided and was encouraged by Mother Mobley to pursue the documentary so we could use it as a stepping-stone to get the case reopened.
Before the documentary was finally released in theaters in 2005 I was already, behind the scenes, sharing the evidence I’d gathered with federal authorities and local officials. It would be those meetings that led to the reopening of the case on May 10, 2004. Considering that I was involved with the Till investigation, I had to be very careful about what was presented in the documentary.
The Till feature will be my second chance to get the full and true story of Emmett Louis Till out to the masses. Lastly, it also helps to have a Dream Team that includes, Fred Zollo, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Levin, Susan Rose, Paul Kurta and my co- writing partner Michael Reilly.
LAS: What’s going to be the focus of the film?
KB: Till is adapted from my documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, from research used to get the case reopened, as well as from Simeon Wright’s book, “Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till.” Mr. Wright was the cousin who shared the bed with Emmett Till the night he was abducted. Our focus will be Emmett Till’s murder and the catalytic decisions made by his courageous mother, which led to the mobilization of the American Civil Rights Movement.
LAS: What message do you want people to take away from Till?
KB: I want people to be inspired and understand that the fight for freedom and justice is a continuous one, despite the post- racial society concept, that some of us want to believe. I firmly believe that this film will be a catalyst for change, just like the murder was in 1955.
LAS: Do you think the movie is more relevant, given the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement?
KB: Yes, the timing could not be any better than now. As we continue to witness the ongoing police shootings of unarmed black males with no accountability and those suffering an injustice within our broken criminal justice system, Emmett Till’s name is often evoked.
LAS: How do you explain the country’s sudden attention to the killings of blacks by police and white men? Is it just that so many incidents are being captured on cell phones?
KB: Unfortunately, what we are seeing today is not a new phenomenon. Police brutality and hate crimes committed against African-Americans and other people of color can be traced all the way back to the South Carolina Slave Patrol and the moment we planted our feet on American soil. Yes, I believe that because of technology we are now subjected to being exposed to this epidemic daily. Although it’s great to be aware of what’s going on in our country, receiving daily doses of this type of cruel behavior is very harmful to our spirit (as human beings).
LAS: You made the decision to employ a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film. Can you explain why you chose to go that route?
KB: We chose Kickstarter because I wanted to make a film for the people and by the people. Over the years, Fred Zollo and I pitched the film to studios and no one would bite. Perhaps the timing was wrong or they were just not interested. We decided long ago that we will make this film with or without a studio being attached, which led us to the Kickstarter platform. Understand that we are not trying to break any Kickstarter records with a goal of just $50,000. Our main mission for using this vehicle is to allow the public participation in the making of this film, and to garner grassroots support, just like I had in the making of the documentary. This is not just a movie to me, it’s a movement. It’s a way to awaken the “Sleeping Giant for Change” once again.
To contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for Till, visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/653510710/till