The new documentary, Emanuel, transports the viewer back to Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 where a 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire in a church. After the attack, nine African Americans lay dead, leaving their families—and a nation—in shock and grief. Two days later, despite their immeasurable suffering and pain, the families of the Emanuel Nine stood in court allowed to face the killer … but, rather than pour out their rage, instead they offered words of forgiveness.
Produced by the seemingly unlikely trio of Viola Davis, NBA All-Star Stephen Curry, and Mariska Hargitay, Emanuelis a touching doc with a powerful message. By telling the story from the perspective of the families of the victims, director Brian Ivie (The Drop Box) gives voice to those most directed affected by the tragedy. In doing so, he allows the pain of the moment to sit with his audience, including all of its darkness and fear. In addition, questions regarding Charleston’s history with racial tension inform the moment by engaging the crisis from a broader perspective. City officials and even footage of then-President Obama’s response from the White House reveal how deeply the nation continues to be affected by tragedies such as these.
Still, Emanuel isn’t interested in merely sitting within the walls of suffering. Instead, when given the opportunity to face the killer of their friends and family, the survivors don’t succumb to their own (justifiable) rage. In an act so counter to our societal demand for justice and revenge, these victims offer grace. In a well-documented shocking turn, rather than unleash their anger upon him, the families inform him that they forgive him and will be praying for him. In a moment that exemplifies the very best of the Jesus that they proclaim, they choose to recognize this killer as a broken man in need of help. While some are less certain than others that this is the right move, the key victims choose to value his humanity in a way that he has not valued the same. What’s more, this act of forgiveness for the unforgivable also opens the door for their own recovery as well. It’s a testament to the power of healing and forgiveness lightening up the darkest of places.
As it stands, Emanuel isn’t so much a powerful film as it is essential viewing. In a nation torn apart by gun violence and racial animosity, Emanuel demonstrates the Divine power of restoration that can take place when there seems to be no other way. In his powerful documentary, director Brian Ivie doesn’t ‘create a story’ so much as he simply follows the truth to its impossible end.
Emanuel speaks boldly in theatres in special engagements on June 17th and 19th