EMANUEL is a remarkable look at the events attendant to the tragic mass shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The documentary, in movie theaters across the country for two nights only (June 17 and 19), takes a sweeping look at the historical factors that created an environment where a hate crime could unfold so brutally within a faith community and examines what happened in the crime’s wake.
In the film, we hear firsthand from the loved ones of the “Emanuel 9,” those nine souls who lost their lives on June 17, 2015. That day, a young man was welcomed into an ongoing Bible study class at Mother Emanuel. He returned the hospitality he received with hatred and unspeakable violence. We come to the know the “9” not only for their deaths but more poignantly for the lives they led and the legacies they left.
While EMANUEL looks at the details of the shooting and introduces us to the victims and their families, I felt the documentary was at its best when it examined what emerged in the aftermath of that horrible day. Through archived court footage, we are present at the perpetrator’s bond hearing just days after the crime. We witness the families, still reeling from loss and filled with emotion, choose to extend a hand of forgiveness. We hear President Obama lead a hurting congregation in worshipful song. We observe how life goes on for those left behind, and how they choose to move forward–albeit forever changed themselves–to change the world around them.
I was also moved by the fact that there were those in the community who opened up freely in the film about the fact that they are not yet to a point of forgiveness, and that perhaps they never will be. I was glad to hear from community organizers who honestly pointed to ongoing systemic issues that still, unfortunately, divide us. Their candor adds to the very “real” sense that the lessons we have learned from the Emanuel 9 are still being revealed.
As similar acts of hatred and violence seem to happen far too regularly, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that all is well. Only by examining root causes and doing the hard work to eradicate them can we have any hope of peace. EMANUEL is a fitting tribute, a reminder the forgiveness can be cathartic, but also a challenge that there is much more hard and painful work left to be done.
National headlines blazed the story: Churchgoers Gunned Down During Prayer Service in Charleston, South Carolina. After a 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire in the church, nine African Americans lay dead—leaving their families and the nation to grapple with this senseless act of terror.
Forty-eight hours later, in the midst of unspeakable grief and suffering, the families of the Emanuel Nine stood in court facing the killer … and offered words of forgiveness. Their demonstration of grace ushered the way for hope and healing across a city and the nation.
It’s the story that rocked a city and a nation as it happened … and in the days that followed. Marking the fourth anniversary of the event, executive producers Stephen Curry and Viola Davis, co-producer Mariska Hargitay, and director Brian Ivie (The Drop Box) present EMANUEL. The documentary powerfully weaves the history of race relations in Charleston, the significance and impact of Mother Emanuel Church, and the hope that somehow emerges in the aftermath.
Featuring intimate interviews with survivors and family members, EMANUEL is a poignant story of justice and faith, love and hate, examining the healing power of forgiveness. Marking the fourth anniversary, EMANUEL will be in movie theaters across the country for two nights only: June 17 and 19.
PLEASE NOTE: All producers’ proceeds from EMANUEL will go to the victims’ families and the survivors.
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Copyright 2019 Lisa Hendey