Set to hit selected theaters nationwide on June 17th and 19th, Emanuel, a powerful new documentary from executive producers Stephen Curry, Academy Award Winning actress Viola Davis and co-producer Mariska Hargitay, (Law and Order: SVU), takes a poignant look into the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church on June 17th, 2015 and its aftermath on the survivors.
Director Brian Ivie (The Drop Box), shares the moment that inspired his involvement with the film. “I had just gotten married, and my wife and I traveled to Mexico for our honeymoon.” Completely off the grid, Brian and his new bride weren’t following national news, until upon entering the hotel suite, Brian found his wife sitting at her laptop sobbing, having just learned of the shooting at Emanuel.
“It was really a surreal moment” Ivie explains. “This was the moment when one of the best times of my life collided with one of the worst things possible and I didn’t know what to do. I had never been to Charleston or had any association with the church, or those involved. My wife looked at me and said, “You don’t understand. They are forgiving him in court.” In that moment I looked at her and said, I hope whoever tells that story one day doesn’t skip that part… I just didn’t know it would be me.”
The film also gives us a glimpse into the life of Polly Sheppard, the one survivor singled out by Dylan Roof, the young 21 year old shooter who allowed her to live… So she could tell the story. “When he didn’t shoot me I was shocked, because I had already braced myself for the bullet. In anticipation, I allowed my body to relax. I figured if this was the way I must go I might as well relax and then he started talking to me.”
Polly who has appeared on a variety of media outlets to share her story of healing and forgiveness is a long time Charleston resident and at the time was a member of the Pastoral team at Emanuel AME. “I never had hatred for him,” Polly said of Dylan Roof. “ I felt sorry for him. [I know that] If he asks for forgiveness for what he did, God will save him. I’m hoping he has time to repent.”
The events of the day, had a profound impact on Polly’s life. Who shared in a recent interview, how different life is now. “I’m used to working in the background. I have never been a speaker or anything. But now everybody knows me, and it’s hard when you have been private all your life—but I’m getting used to it. My new normal, now involves shuttling around the country [she laughs]. God works in mysterious ways.”
Emanuel the film, intertwines justice, truth, and forgiveness around a message of love. “Love is stronger than hate,“ says Chris Singleton, at the time a young baseball player [who would go on to play for the Chicago Cubs) also featured in the film, and whose mother, Sharonda was killed in the shooting. Of his mother’s legacy, Chris says,” I want my mother to be remembered as a person who was light-hearted and kind. She was a God-fearing and faithful woman, who poured her heart into young people.”
After his mother’s murder, Chris stepped into the role as head of his household, raising teenage siblings and his own young son. “My perspective on life has changed,” says Chris. “There’s gonna be a lot of tough times, but I’ve learned that I’m a fighter. There’s nothing that I won’t be able to get through with my faith.”
Since 2015, Chris has spoken at various colleges and learning institutions to upwards of 35,000+ students, inspiring them to let go of hate and love all people. “I truly believe that if I would have been able to meet my mother’s killer, be nice to him, become his friend, have him be able to bounce ideas off of someone who looks different from him, lives would have been saved. We should love one another and not judge based on race or religion, as Dr. King said, but by the content of their character.”
When asked about his hopes for the film, Ivie explains, this is his way of introducing God’s love to others. “ This is the love I want people to know. A love that is unconditional.There’s still hope for redemption, and that’s what these families and the love they showed reminds us all. This reminds me that I’m in need of forgiveness too in my own life. And so I made the whole film from that place.
[Ultimately] My hope is that the film challenges the church, in particular, to be more a part of the solution. I hope for people who are skeptical and people who are on a journey spiritually and don’t know what they believe– I hope they walk away seeing God is real, and that He participates in our sufferings primarily in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.”