Our THE SOURCE writer Rob Chagdes had an opportunity to preview the film and gives us his two cents:
Emanuel Movie Review
Nine African Americans were murdered by a white male Dylan Roof. The new documentary Emanuel tells the story. The 75 minute film weaves themes of racism, faith, and forgiveness through interviews with survivors and others who were impacted by the tragedy.
I enjoyed the film, although admittedly… it starts slow explaining the deep and racially charged history of Charleston and the significance of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As someone who was only marginally aware of this shooting, which of course underscores my own ignorance as well as the frequency of these events in recent history, I found myself not fully understanding the purpose of the information I was receiving, which made it difficult to follow.
Once the events of the shooting unfolded, my engagement ramped up. I began to understand how the victims invited the shooter into their Bible study where he interacted with them prior to revealing his true purpose for being there. The interviews with survivors and family members told the personal side of the story and how this day changed their lives forever.
The film spends time showing the apprehension of the shooter, as well as his confession and a perfectly executed dive into the motivation for his acts. The film does well to keep him from becoming the focus of the film while appropriately telling the story and answering the questions the viewer is carrying at that point in the movie.
Things move from engaging to compelling after the first 45 minutes. The survivors and family members gather in a local courthouse just 48 hours after the shootings, where the judge unexpectedly asks each family to speak directly to the accused killer. In a stunning turn of events, they offer words of forgiveness and urge him to repent and turn to Christ. At one point a survivor shares how they enjoyed having him in the Bible study, and asks for God to have mercy on him. You can see the expressions on the faces of both the judge and the law enforcement officers in that scene who are clearly taken by this incredible moment. The killer himself looks up occasionally, appearing unsure how to respond to the grace being offered.
The movie progresses into some pretty blatant political propaganda as President Obama powerfully gives the Eulogy at the memorial service. The interviews concerning the President’s passionate speech and subsequent mention that two of the survivors would later speak at the 2016 Democratic National Convention serve as unnecessary triggers in a deeply divided political climate.
Despite the minor missteps, the message of the power of forgiveness is clear and pronounced as the movie moves on from the compelling words of the survivors. Pastor and author A.R. Bernard speaks on the surprise of their words saying;
Some people see the families forgiveness as submission to centuries of oppression, acts of hatred against black people. But if we look closely, that act of forgiveness demonstrated great courage.
He speaks on the impact of their courage with pointed words on the power of the forgiveness offered;
The beauty of forgiveness is whether Dylan Roof accepts the responsibility demonstrated remorse, doesn’t matter, those that he offended can forgive him and walk away free while he continues to carry the burden of his actions.
It’s a powerful statement and a remarkable insight at the impact of the responses of the survivors and their families. Where forgiveness was not offered, there was still a willingness to speak with the shooter to understand and give him opportunity to answer questions. The victims are not destined to live only as victims as they embrace the freedom that Jesus offers when we forgive. The weight of these responses will leave a mark on the viewers as they grapple with how this response is even possible.
There are a lot of good resources for those who want to dive into racism and forgiveness, and this movie will at least promote discussion of the latter. However, as a long time Youth Pastor in mostly white suburban communities, this is not a movie I would have brought students to. Not only might the documentary format struggle to engage them, but I would not be able to make a case that they would find relatable. As a parent of an 18, 15, and 12 year old, I would encourage my oldest to view this movie so we could dialogue about forgiveness and racism in an open and healthy way. It’s well done and powerful, but unlikely to pique the interest of a majority of students.
I’m grateful this film was made, and thank God for the way His people responded in what can only be described as an awesome way. Its closing words are toward the shooter, spoken with a blood stained Bible saying,You tried to kill the Word, but the Word is still on the pages.God worked in significant ways through this tragedy, and it’s a story worth being told.
Emanuel appears in select theaters only on June 15 and 17.