When the official announcement was released that Chaz Ebert would be producing a feature film on the story of Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of 14-year old Emmett Till who was brutally murdered visiting relatives in Mississippi in the summer of 1955—people were pleasantly surprised. Out of all of the scripts and projects that she could have taken on and produced; the question was why this particular story?
As a non-fiction source of reference, Ebert found the best narrative of Mrs. Till-Mobley’s story to be found in the book, “Death of Innocence” co-authored by Mobley and Christopher Benson.
Known to many as the wife of film critic and journalist, Roger Ebert—Chaz Ebert took over the Ebert Company as President and CEO when Roger Ebert lost his battle with papillary thyroid cancer in April 2013. As an attorney, she joined the company in 1990 as the Vice President of Operations, where three years later the couple married.
She recalls. “I’ve been working with my husband for many years. Helping to run the company and then I became the President after he passed away. We also have a production company, Ebert Productions where we produced ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies’ and we’re in the process of developing other televisions shows as well related to the movies.”
Born and raised on the West Side of Chicago, her family background is very similar to so many African Americans whose families migrated from the South up north for a better quality of life. Both her mother and father decided to relocate from Georgia in the post-World War II era and known as the “Great Migration.”. Her father was from Talbotton, Georgia and her mother grew up in Thomaston—the two towns are next door to each other just outside of Atlanta.
“My father was a very quiet man. Very sturdy and a solid man who went to work to take care of his family. He didn’t talk about racism.” she said. “I remember when Dr. King was marching on the West Side, my father took my hand and we went out and marched. I never forgot that time because until then, he never talked about whatever horrid things he had experienced in Georgia that caused he and my mother to move here.”
Chaz remembered the impact of what Till’s murder had on the Black community growing up during that time. When the project was brought to her by Shatter Glass Productions, she didn’t hesitate to bring it to light.
“This weighs heavily on me because I feel that I have a duty to do it right, and I have to do it true to the spirit of Mother Mobley – as I call her. I feel it’s such an honor and a privilege but also a big responsibility that Mother Mobley’s estate gave us the exclusive rights to tell the real story. There are other stories that are going to come out about Emmett Till. I don’t know the way they’re going to handle it,” she explains.
There have been documentaries and short essays on the life of Emmett Till but rarely one that delves into the story telling of Mamie Till-Mobley. Her experience and why she chose to share the horrific crimes against Black people that were often swept under the rug. Bringing truth and conscious to filmmaking has become one of the main missions of RogerEbert.com; a website that she runs as the publisher.
“That’s the purpose of how we exist as a film review site. I like doing things that will shed light on the human condition and a way to illuminate it. Also, to inspire empathy for others and the possibility to heal. You can’t do this all the time,” she said. “You also have to write about plain and mundane things. We cover all kinds of hollywood movies but also independent films. I like to make sure we cover artists of every nationality and to make sure that we give due to African American artists and filmmakers as well as other ethnicities.”
Chaz Ebert is no ordinary corporate executive—a high school graduate of Crane High School, she went on to acquire a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dubuque majoring in Political Science, attended University of Wisconsin to earn her MBA and came back home to attend DePaul University of Law School–earning her law degree. She practiced litigation in both environmental and equal opportunity law for a number of years before landing at the Ebert Company.
Her reputation in the film and entertainment business proceeds her as one of the most influential people with whom to work with. What made her and Roger’s marriage work is their shared passion for humanity. The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation has donated $1 million dollars to the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign and works with aspiring filmmakers and journalists building a career in the entertainment industry. Her philanthropic works continue to create a positive platform for young people following in her late husband’s footsteps. This includes working with the Chicago Urban League in providing scholarships for Columbia Links students participating in the Ebert Scholarship program.
As a woman in a male dominated field, does it bother her if people question her ability to carry her husband’s legacy?
She answers, “If people are saying that, I’m not aware of it. I am not him. I’m different. I am a different person but the people who have known me over 20 years, knew I was married to him but also as the Vice President of the Ebert Company. They know that I am my own person.”
“I don’t want to seem that I am just riding on his coat tails. I’m standing on my own two feet. I do realize the things that I do are very much likened to what he believed. He put such good out into the world that it does benefit what I’m doing in carrying on his legacy. But I’m also forging my own path.”
In bringing the story of Mother Mobley to a new generation of film goers, she understands that the current climate of social injustice in bringing the topic of racism, police brutality,and a broken legal system is coming around 360 degrees. Her action runs deeper than just producing another race biopic.
“You have to really become conscious of identifying the problem and talk about it. So that it becomes part of the fabric of what you’re trying to do. I do think that paying lip service to something is good as long as you’re paying enough lip service to it that actually means something to translate into some kind of action.”