Documentaries that cover events of unconscionable horror can be challenging to watch. But if just for educational purposes and to try to help understand how and why an event occurred, Emanuel does a humanitarian job in bringing light to the brutal murder of nine innocent people at a bible study. On June 17, 2015, a gunman, under the belief he could start a race war, executed nine black church members, including the pastor, at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. Directed by Brian Ivie, the viewer gets a history lesson of the racial tension and divide of Charleston that goes back to colonial days. This information provides a valuable, yet familiar, historical perspective to the lingering ethnic tensions in the South. Through interviews with community members, local historians, and news reporters, we come to understand how vitally important the church is to black people in South Carolina as a haven of love and harmony.
Dramatic reenactments depict how African slaves found temporary solace from the misery and hardship of slavery, by finding empowerment and an embodiment of love from a higher power through their worship. This dedicated devotion has been passed down through generations of Black Americans. The ability to forgive when tragedy strikes, a lesson that is powerful that the end of the documentary.
There are several vignettes featuring family members of the victims. Each story paints beautiful lives of beautiful, loving people who not only enriched the lives of their loved ones but truly lived for God. Each vignette starts with the name of the family member, and Nadine is the first to speak on Emanuel. She is shown happily cooking sweet potato pies in her kitchen as she recounts the events of that fateful evening leading to the announcement of the shooting and the revelation that her beloved mother was a victim. It’s only been four years, so the emotional retelling is harrowing to watch, and the viewer may need a tissue. It is heartbreaking to watch Nadine explain the hope and prayers that her mother was ok, only to find out that she wasn’t, and describing how the police refused her access into the church to see her mother one last time.
Felicia’s story was equally devastating as she was in the church at the time of the shooting, and was hiding under a table. She explained that her son tried to talk to the killer and asked him to stop what he was doing. Unfortunately, before getting shot, he was able to tell his mother he loved her before he died. One might wonder why should survivors and family share such intimate details about their family and that night. It is to serve as sharing a source of truth and knowledge of a horrific situation that is now one of many bitter racial episodes in our nation’s history. And in contrast to these stories, the documentary shows police videos of the killer’s arrest and how the SC police treated him with delicate care in placing him into police custody and also having a polite “interrogation” with him at the police station about this murderous event. It’s infuriating to watch this, especially after listening to the way the people he executed the victims in Emanuel AME.
Produced by the star power of Academy Award-winning actress, Viola Davis, Golden State Warrior star athlete Stephen Curry, and co-produced by actress Mariska Hargitay. Emanuel also shows how a community can rise above this hateful act, and help people who otherwise may not come together, join hands in solidarity and mourning. The race war the gunman wanted will never transpire. Although some families forgave him due to their profoundly religious devotion, he is currently awaiting his punishment on death row. Emanuel is a must-see documentary that should be required viewing in race relations courses in high school and colleges.
EMANUEL is Directed by Brian Ivie (The Drop Box), Produced by John Shepherd, Mike Wildt, and Dimas Salaberrios, Co-Produced by Mariska Hargitay, & Executive Produced by Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Stephen Curry, Jeron Smith, Erick Peyton, Dane Smith, David Segel, and Tina Segel.