The tragic death of Emmett Till has been on the minds of millions of Americans recently. With the new anti-lynching bill signed into law, it’s hard not to think about his tragic death back in 1955. The story and the impact of his death has been passed on from generation to generation. Immortalized in books, movies, and now, through musical theater. A New American Opera: Emmett Till is a new musical that aims to tell the story of the teenager’s murder through a different perspective. A perspective that many consider to be disrespectful to the memory of Emmett.
Written by Clare Coss and based on her 2013 play Emmett, Down in My Heart, the production tells the story of Roanne Taylor, a fictional white school teacher in Mississippi who goes through a roller coaster of emotions in reaction to the news of Emmett Till’s tragic end. Cross takes the African American tragedy of the 14-year-old's death and changes it into a tragic white narrative about a good person not willing to stand up for what is right.
The premise sounds terrible enough at first, but it only gets worse after learning that a crucial character from the original stage play had their role cut down from a co-lead to part of the supporting cast. This character being Emmett’s mother. For reasons unexplained, Coss decided that instead of focusing on the courage and strength of Mamie Till, it was more important to highlight the emotional pain and suffering of a made-up "ally."
Outrage and disgust have been the general reaction to the announcement of this play, with many Black people on social media expressing anger that such an idea even received funding, to begin with. A petition has even been formed to have the play banned from stages.
"Clare Coss has creatively centered her white guilt by using this play to make the racially motivated brutal torture and murder of a 14-year-old child about her white self and her white feelings." The petition states. "Telling the story from the perspective of a fictional progressive white woman shows that Clare Coss is more concerned with showing the audience that 'not all white people are bad' than she is with the ongoing fight for racial justice."