Mike Wiley & The inspiration for Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till
“From the very start, I knew I needed to get it right. I needed to present the truth.” – Mike Wiley shines his light on racial violence and injustice through telling the story of Emmett Till.
Wiley was lead to Till’s story after hearing a reference to Till’s murder flippantly referenced in the lyrics of a song while listening to the radio. “I knew a little about Emmett Till — about as much as any young African American would learn in high school,” Wiley explained. “But this song set me on a course to research and really delve into his case.”
Since then Wiley was dedicated to explore pieces of African American history in hopes to place emphasis on events that might otherwise go understated.
On August 21st, 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till had just arrived in Money, Mississippi, a small Delta community he knew only through family stories. Eager to explore this vastly different world, the black Chicago teen set off into the stifling Southern heat, ready for a summer adventure with cousins on his great-uncle’s farm.
One week after stepping off the train, Till was abducted from his bed and brutally murdered in a horrific act of racially motivated violence. Till’s death, the subsequent trial and acquittal of the two white men accused of Till’s murder by an all-white jury despite overwhelming evidence of guilt prompted outrage across the country and Emmett Till became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.
“From the very start, I knew I needed to get it right. I needed to present the truth,” said Wiley, who artfully portrays more than 30 characters in the play. “I sifted through interviews from family members, listened to the audio so I could get their voices and mannerisms correct.”
He also knew that it was especially important to accurately portray Till’s killers, along with the jury that set them free — presenting actual, complex characters rather than villainous caricatures to show that evil acts often come from seemingly ordinary people.
In Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till, Wiley takes a deep look at racism in America — not only exploring racism’s effects on people, families and communities, but also how racism takes hold in individuals, a mindset deeply rooted in fear of the unknown.
“I do these plays because I believe stereotypes and racism and things of that nature arise from fear — because we are scared of the unknown. When we were children, we were scared of the dark…because we didn’t know what was in the dark. We thought that box in the corner was a monster because we didn’t have the lights on to tell us that it was just a box. But when the lights came on and we saw it was just a box, the fear disappeared. The same logic can be applied to our perceptions of other cultures or religions or races. We turn the light on. We figure out who they are. We learn about them. Then we’re not afraid of them anymore.” – Mike Wiley
What: Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till by Mike Wiley
Where: North Carolina Stage Company, 15 Stage Lane, downtown Asheville
Dates: September 19th-30th, 2018; Wednesday-Saturdays at 7:30PM & Sundays at 2PM
Tickets: $18-$36, $10 for students with ID, or call 828-239-0263. Pay As You Wish tickets are $6.00 – $20.00 and are available on September 19th.