At 9:05 p.m. on June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire on a group of moms, dads, grandfathers, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and friends during prayer after sitting through Bible Study. He killed nine African-American churchgoers, scarred some of the survivors for life and enraged African-American communities around the nation.

The documentary “Emanuel” tells the story of the survivors, family members and parishioners who were there and others who learned of their loved one’s murders by a phone call or the news.

Told from the perspective of the family members of the nine victims – senior pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney; Cynthia Hurd; Depayne Middleton-Doctor; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; Susie Jackson; Myra Thompson; Tywanza Sanders; Ethel Lance; and Daniel Simmons – the film leaves no aspect of the terror untouched.

In the film, AME Pastor Joseph Darby poses an answer to the question of why something like this would happen: “Racism is as American as apple pie.” In 90 minutes, the film unapologetically asks “why” and “how” from various perspectives, yet leaves most of the answers to viewers.

Executive Produced by Stephen Curry and Viola Davis and directed by Brian Ivie (“The Drop Box”), the film uncovers the root of this senseless act of terror; the history of hate in Charleston beginning with U.S. slavery through the Civil War; and Jim Crow through today.

A few moments of the film discuss the fact that the shooting happened just two months after Walter Scott was shot five times in the back and killed by a police officer in North Charleston, S.C., and cite protests in Ferguson, Baltimore and others around the nation. In doing so, it highlights recent responses to black lives being taken because of institutional racism in the U.S. and how the hate this nation was founded upon still permeates in the same, destructive ways.

The documentary emphasizes the national importance of Mother Emanuel Church, which was the first freestanding Black church in the South, a symbol of Black autonomy, pride and anti-slavery advocacy in a city full of Confederate sites and glorified plantations.

“Emanuel” weaves the foundation of “The Holy City” – the capital of the slave trade – with intimate interviews, riveting Antebellum reenactments and archival footage, beautifully depicting the horror and heartbreak of the environment, the act and its aftermath.

“Some people see the families’ forgiveness as submission, but, that act of forgiving people is the greatest act of love that one could ever experience,” said Reverend Anthony Thompson, husband of Myra Thompson, during his interview.

48 hours following the shooting, several family members of the victims forgave the perpetrator, and “Emanuel” carefully but swiftly explores these moments – not with religious lingo or “church speak” but empathy and authenticity. Though powerful, this piece of the film will leave the viewer longing for more. Additional time to delve into what some see as unthinkable, especially so soon, would have made the theme of compassion even more impactful.

“Emanuel” is a reminder that the only way the nation is going to move beyond racism is to confront it head on, accept what it has been and is, and take a good look at itself, particularly beliefs about people who don’t look, think or show up in the world like we do. In subtle, yet bold moments, “Emanuel” asks viewers to think about, define and redefine their faith, spirituality or religion in the context of history, hate and pain – including what forgiveness looks like.

Considering the families’ mercy solely as an act of love for or towards the person who killed their loved ones neglects the full breadth of love. Viewing their mercy through the lens of self-love makes their act much mightier. This film shows what self-love, in pursuit of freedom from heartache, inspired by unspeakable suffering, looks like. Their choice was to forgive – “let go” – or be consumed by the hate that crushed their souls.

“Emanuel” does more than outline how evil this shooting was. It convicts racism, offers context for the present, defends justice and reveals the inner dialogue of faith, hope and love within the broken heart – shattered into pieces and longing for healing.

The film will be in movie theaters across the country for two nights only: Monday, June 17 (the fourth anniversary of the shooting) and Wednesday, June 19 (the fourth anniversary of the families’ declaration of pardon). All producers’ proceeds from “Emanuel” will go to the victims’ families and the survivors.

Tickets can be purchased from www.emanuelmovie.com. View the official trailer here.

 

Sharee Silerio is a writer, director, producer and blogger. When she isn’t creating for The Root or Curly Nikki, she enjoys sharing her journey to discover wisdom, become whole and fulfill her dreams at SincerelySharee.com. Get a glimpse of her #BlackGirlMagic via ShareeSilerio.com then connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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