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Emanuel 9 Anniversary Commemorated With Theatrical Release

Emanuel movie

It was four years ago today that nine black churchgoers were massacred at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. A new documentary titled Emanuel tells the story of the tragedy with an emphasis on the theme of forgiveness.

Brian Ivie
Credit Brian Ivie
Brian Ivie, director of Emanuel.

In the days immediately following the shootings family members of several victims publicly expressed forgiveness for the shooter Dylan Roof. The film "Emanuel" is showing in theaters tonight and Wednesday night. Its director is Brian Ivey and he joined "All Things Considered" host Mark Rumsey by phone from Los Angeles.

Mark Rumsey: Mr. Ivey, hi there.

Brian Ivie: How you doing? Great to be here.

Rumsey: Not everyone even among people of faith defines forgiveness in the same way. What did you see or learn about that?

Ivie: Well, the first thing that must be said is that I am sorry. I think when it comes to the African-American community that there have been so many things to forgive in the history of the United States. I think it is very sobering to think about how many times African Americans have had to do so, not only to survive, but to move us forward as a nation or to try to heal. I think for the family members, of course, it was sort of taken up initially as a very convenient narrative, but in reality it's been much more complex and the families are at different places when it comes to that forgiveness and rightfully so.

Rumsey: And I'm curious, in talking with family members in the making of this film, did you come across any who were among those who made those very prompt expressions of forgiveness, who have perhaps wrestled with that more so in the intervening time?

Ivie: I think I'm sure that's happened. But what I've seen is that they've all stood by that statement which they received a lot of criticism for. And I think because it's misunderstood. You know, obviously these families were not forgiving racism as an idea. There's no sense as a society that we should be forgiving this man's actions, but interpersonally and also for the personal freedom of these family members and no longer being attached and being the emotional prisoner to this killer. It's been something that has allowed them to experience liberation and so they continue to choose that. I think on a daily basis.

Rumsey: Mr. Ivey aside from the theme of forgiveness were there other aspects of the Emanuel AME story that you felt you wanted to tell through this film?

Ivie: Absolutely. I think that I learned a lot. I was very naive going into this story. I’ve just learned to be honest about, I think many white Americans were very naive or ignorant about what's gone on in our country. And I think I learned a lot about the woundedness that still exists in our country. I learned a lot about racial justice and healing and what's required of me to become a part of that solution instead a part of the problem. But also from a spiritual perspective learned that God is truly...as the name would say, with us and present in suffering and that's been an encouragement to my faith and I know to the city of Charleston, as well.

Rumsey: I've read also that you did not attempt with this film to explicitly address the issue of guns and gun control. What can you say about that choice?

Ivie: Well, absolutely I think it's an incredibly important issue. I think we all know that in these kind of documentaries the goal is really to let the families tell the story from their perspective and what was important to them. The vast majority of them we're much more focused on the ideals that led this killer to pick up the gun in the first place.

Rumsey: And as for the making of the movie "Emanuel," the executive producers of this film are well-known individuals - Oscar winning actress Viola Davis and NBA star Stephen Curry. Specifically what were his contributions to this project?

Ivie: Well, I think for both Stephen and Viola this was like a loss in the family for them both, growing up nearby. Viola being from South Carolina, Stephen being from North Carolina, so I think for them this is an attempt to make sure the world didn't forget, so they were involved when the rough cut was done. They got involved to speak into the story, but also just promoting the film to the world and making sure these families were remembered for who they were and that the survivors are also blessed in the process.

Rumsey: And the film "Emanuel" is showing in theaters, as we said, tonight and again Wednesday night. What's the philosophy behind this limited initial run, I presume?

Ivie: Well, that's a great question. You know, obviously for films like ours... in this day and age it just goes online. My goal, and what we fought for, is that this film would have a theatrical release on the days that it happened. You know, this is the four year anniversary today and Wednesday is the four year anniversary of the forgiveness in court. So our goal is that people would see each other face-to-face to have the hard conversations, but also to come together in a more lasting and authentic way. So this is that opportunity today and Wednesday. And then it will be online and most platforms starting in September of this year.

Rumsey: Brian Ivie, the director of the new documentary film "Emanuel." Thank you very much for talking with us.

Ivie: Honored to be here. Thanks for having me.

To view film times and locations in the Charlotte click here.