Friday, September 21, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website.

I've heard of actors who put on one-man stage shows, and I've always wondered how they do it. Taking on multiple personalities all at once is one thing, but then it's also making the characters relate to each other and to the audience, how to stage the whole thing so that there's a sense of action... it has to be one of the greatest challenges any actor could ever face.

Mike Wiley is a North Carolina actor who wrote and performed a one-man show inspired by the brutal 1955 murder of the black Chicago teenager Emmett Till at the hands of two white Mississippi men, and their subsequent trial, at which they were found not guilty. The case was one of the major flashpoints of the black civil rights movement that would extend into the 60s and beyond.

With director Rob Underhill, Wiley adapted it into the feature film Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till, which played at Urbanworld today. Wiley once again plays every character, and special effects made it possible for them to interact with each other and occupy the same physical space, so that every character on the screen, from Till to the black and white Mississippi residents, and even the women, is Wiley - 36 characters in all. He doesn't use wigs or makeup to play the women, nor does he perform in "whiteface" - changes in wardrobe differentiate everyone visually, but the rest is all Wiley. Once you get past the gimmick, he totally makes you believe in each character he embodies. It helps that many of the major characters have long monologues and the editing allows for that.

The illusion is not perfect. At least one jump cut is visible, and some scenes clearly look like they were done in front of a green screen, but then, this is a small, low-budget movie. Still, give Underhill and Wiley credit for what they were able to accomplish, which is considerable. Also, I didn't care for the score. I felt it was intrusive and tried to compete for attention, which a good score should never do. Still, it was marvelous to witness such an acting tour-de-force.

Regrettably, neither Underhill nor Wiley could make it to the screening. Much of the information I got about the film was from a couple of the people in the audience: a former student of Wiley's and an acting professor from North Carolina who knows Wiley (neither of whom could tell me what the title means). If you wanna know more about it, including watching the trailer, here's the website.

Being Mary Jane


  1. This sounds intriguing. I saw a documentary about Emmett Till. It was just heartbreaking.

  2. Those of us who were at the screening - maybe a dozen or so - talked about the film from a real-world perspective, how it's a story that doesn't get talked about as much anymore. One woman, who was a lawyer, called the trial perhaps the biggest miscarriage of justice in American history. So there you go.

  3. They did not use a green screen--just incredible acting, editing, cinematography, and directing! The title represents the courage it took to bring this injustice to light. Dar he = There he is, the words spoken by Mr. Wright when he stood in court and pointed out the men who took Emmett Till away.

    Hope you get a chance to experience Mike Wiley's live performance!

  4. There were definitely sets and live locations, but I honestly thought some of the backgrounds looked artificial. Not that it matters; it's still a good movie. Thank you for providing the meaning of 'dar he.'


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