• Thomas Bonifield

"Emanuel" - Unbelievable Christian Forgiveness

The Holy Spirit moved among family members of the South Carolina church shooting victims and it is plain to see in this touching documentary.

Families of those killed release doves at a memorial service. Image from the film's Instagram page.

Though Emanual examines the 2015 massacre in Charleston, SC from every angle, it rightly focuses its attention on the most stunning aspect of this ordeal, which is not the act itself, ghastly as it was, but rather the forgiveness extended to the killer by the murder victims' loved ones. That happened in a courtroom just days later and the footage and audio are truly riveting.


Stephen Curry & Brian Ivie in a scene from the film.

This is a film from Christian director Brian Ivie and it was done with big-name backing, including from executive producers Viola Davis - the Hollywood actress, Stephen Curry - of NBA fame, and co-producer Mariska Hargitay, another Hollywood star. In addition to being a basketball great, Curry is an outspoken Christian and he and Ivie open the movie with a brief discussion in which he puts God at the center of things.


It then moves to footage from the time of the shooting, including a White House news conference with President Obama, to recap what happened. Ivie intersperses archival video and soundbites from 2015 throughout the picture to punctuate and advance the narrative, reminding viewers of the evil act perpetrated by a white supremacist gunman against Black Christians at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he killed nine.


There are politicians, Mr. Obama - in the news conference and at a memorial service - plus interviews with then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Charleston's mayor, and historians - they give an overview of the city's blotted racial past - and some scene setting of the terrible event itself from reporters and city officials present in the aftermath. While at times insightful, they are primarily vehicles to move the overall account forward.


Nadine Collier, whose mother was among the victims.

The stars of this documentary, and we use that term with all due respect, are the family members of the fallen. Foremost among them is Nadine Collier, whose 70-year old mother Ethel perished in the church. Early in the film, she recounts how on the day of the shooting, news unfolded gradually, coming to her piece by piece. But with no definitive word about her mother's fate, her anxiety built correspondingly until it reached a devastating crescendo: Collier was last of all the family members to learn the terrible truth. It is genuinely haunting to watch her relive that dreadful day.


And yet, a mere 48 hours later in court proceedings for the gunman, she was the first to publicly forgive him. In a clear reference to the Holy Spirit, Collier says "something just came over me," allowing her to release her anger as she addressed her mother's killer.

"I said to him, 'You have taken something very precious away from me...I won't be able to talk to my mom no more, I won't be able to hold her no more.' But I said, 'God forgives you, and I forgive you.'"

Several others followed her with similar declarations of forgiveness and one went as far as to plead with the killer to come to the Lord by surrendering to Christ. It was unbelievable and even sparked criticism, some of which is echoed by participants in the film, like an NAACP representative and an agitator from Black Lives Matter who expresses profound disappointment that those acts of forgiveness robbed his group of the opportunity to exploit the tragedy for their own political purposes.


The contrast between him and our Christian brothers and sisters in this documentary could not be more stark. The grace and forgiveness they extend can be nothing other than divinely inspired, whereas the Black Lives Matter fellow would seem to be the personification of those God has in mind when He says in Isaiah 55:8, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways."


With such a compelling story, it would be hard to go amiss and the filmmakers most certainly do not. Christian Film Blog rates Emanuel an 8 out of 10 and recommends you go see it. Now, a quick word about that. The film is a special engagement and will be in theaters just one more day: tomorrow, June 19th. You can check locations via this link. Be sure not to miss it.

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