The activist and “Grey’s Anatomy” actor shared the lengthy letter on his social media pages Tuesday, Sept. 26, after backlash over the black-and-white images led him to delete the posts on Monday. Internet users were riled up when they saw Williams post two images: one of Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, sobbing over her son’s casket and the other of her with a tear rolling down her cheek.
Fans lit up the actor, who previously won praise in 2016 for his BET Awards speech about Black oppression.
“It’s in poor taste..the picture shouldn’t have been used with the ‘Nike esque’ meme on it. I can understand what he was trying to do but it could be interpreted as exploitive.”
“a nike meme of emmett till’s mother to promote a movie????? i hate jesse williams. wow.”
The criticism prompted Williams to post an apology Tuesday acknowledging the images “provoked a strong reaction.”
“While some clearly understood my intention and it’s connection to Mamie’s real life, many didn’t,” he said. “As much as I’d like to address what my intentions were and the meaning of those images, it’s more important that I first acknowledge that I seem to have offended and possibly hurt some of the very people I aim to uplift.
“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’. That doesn’t even kinda make sense, never mind being absurd and ahistorical,” he continued.
Williams explained the images were meant to put a spotlight on Mobley sharing the iconic images of 14-year-old battered Till, who was tortured and murdered in Mississippi by white men in 1955 after falsely being accused of whistling at a white woman. Williams characterized Mobley’s actions as a “sacrifice.”
“I adopted an iconic contemporary visual framework to connect past to present and contextualize our language around loss, leadership and sacrifice, he said.”My intent aside, I take responsibility for how they were received.
“My heart is always with my people and this includes my artistic commitment to telling our stories. Always have, always will,” the star concluded. “And while I stand for creative expression, every swing ain’t gonna be a homerun. (And y’all know I swing a lot.) Those who are sincere in this work and concern, I thank you.”
Several supported Williams’ statement.
“We love you and appreciate your intentions @ijessewilliams we stand with you.”
“Dag. Now THAT’S how a man owns his whole experience. A master class in class, Mr. Williams.”
But others didn’t let him off the hook so easily.
“this is not an apology. nor are you taking responsibility for what you did wrong. you’re only sorry for how it was *perceived*. that’s the same s— as ‘well, i guess i’m sorry IF i offended y’all.’ 🗣️THAT IS NOT AN APOLOGY! THAT IS NOT TAKING OWNERSHIP FOR THE WRONG DONE!🗣️”
“What the hell kind of apology did Jesse Williams put out after 24 hours? 😒”