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Jesse Williams Tries to Explain Why He Posted Controversial Emmett Till Meme, Acknowledges He ‘Offended’ People

Williams is set to direct a feature adaptation of Keith A. Beauchamp’s 2005 documentary, "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till."

Jesse Williams attends the 22nd Annual Webby Awards at Cipriani Wall Street, in New York22nd Annual Webby Awards, New York, USA - 14 May 2018

Jesse Williams

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Jesse Williams celebrated the September 24 announcement that he’s making his feature directorial debut with the drama “Till” by posting a controversial meme of Emmett Till’s open casket. The meme used the historic photo of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, weeping over his casket as the background for Nike’s new “Just Do It” campaign, which famously features Colin Kaepernick. Williams’ meme had the same slogan as the Kaepernick ad: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Williams was criticized for the post on social media, prompting him to delete the image. Numerous users made note of the fact that Mamie didn’t willingly “sacrifice” anything since her son was murdered at age 14 after offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. Williams responded to the backlash by acknowledging the meme “hurt” and “offended” people.

“I would absolutely never make light of the tremendous tragedy that foisted Mamie Till Mobley into her life of activism and could never pretend her child being brutally tortured and executed was her ‘sacrifice,’” Williams said. “That doesn’t even kinda make sense, never mind being absurd and ahistorical.”

Williams continued by trying to shine a light on his intention with the meme. “The images were designed to highlight the tremendous sacrifices Mamie made by sharing her unrelenting journey for justice,” he said, “including boldly sharing those iconic images from her son’s funeral, which changed the world.”

“Till” is set to be based on Keith A. Beauchamp’s 2005 documentary, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.” The plot will focus around Mamie as she fights for justice after Emmett’s murder, which contributed greatly to the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. Williams is producing the project with Whoopi Goldberg, who will also act in the film.

“I adopted an iconic contemporary visual framework to connect past to present and contextualize our language around loss, leadership and sacrifice,” Williams said of his decision to post the meme. “My intent aside, I take responsibility for how they were received.”

Read Williams’ full statement responding to the backlash below.

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