By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
June 17, 2015, a Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church turned into a bloody crime scene. June 17, 2015, nine innocent people in their safe place of worship were brutally killed simply because of the color of their skin. On June 17, 2019, four years after this hate-based mass shooting, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (EDOW) and members of the A.M.E. Church gathered at Regal Gallery Place in Washington, D.C. to remember the lives lost by watching the new documentary, “Emanuel.”
“We have a strong convergence of both a commitment to gun violence prevention and a really engaged racial justice spirit in the Diocese and so there’s a convergence of those two passions with this film,” Bishop of EDOW the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde told the AFRO.
Directed by Brian Ivie and produced by celebrities including the Golden State Warriors basketball star Stephen Curry, and actresses Viola Davis and Mariska Hargitay, “Emanuel” emphasizes that despite the major tragedy, many family members were able to forgive Dylann Roof, the then 21-year-old, who, in an act of hate, savagely murdered nine people after they welcomed him into Bible study at Mother Emanuel.
“‘Emanuel’ spreads an important message about the power of forgiveness,” Stephen Curry is quoted saying, in “Emanuel” promotional material.
As the fourth anniversary of the murder of the “Emanuel Nine,” approached, EDOW decided they had to get involved in promoting the movie and beginning a conversation on race and activism within the church.
“When we first heard about it, we were scrambling to figure out how we could see it. There was some talk that it would only be in movie theaters for a few days and then it would be available in DVD so that we could show in small group settings or in congregations. So, we were just trying to find any path we could to get as many of us to see it,” Budde explained.
After much work, EDOW was able to gather a small group of members of the community to watch the film at Regal Cinemas Gallery Place in Northwest, D.C.
“We were directed to a site where we could reserve 30 seats. I was really hoping it could be more so we could’ve advertised it widely, but the people who are coming tonight are among our most passionate racial justice and gun violence prevention activists in the Diocese,” Budde told the AFRO. “So I’m humbled, I’m excited.”
In addition, members of D.C.’s A.M.E. community joined EDOW in the premier of “Emanuel.”
“I think a lot of the people in the congregation, will be members of the A.M.E. communities of D.C., which are very strong. And we want to be in solidarity with them, in prayer with them,” Budde said.
The Episocpal Bishop hoped that the gathering would lead to further work in activism and with the A.M.E. Church.
“It’s going to obviously be a very poignant experience, but hopefully a galvanizing one, and perhaps a tool that we can use going forward,” she said.
As the AFRO spoke to Bishop Budde before the film premier, she also noted the anxiety and sense of danger in publicly gathering as a church in communion.
“All of us have a sense of anticipation and a little bit of trepidation, because we know the story, we know how awful it is, and we also know how inspiring the response of the church is. There’s a lot of heightened anxiety about people coming together for public worship, and how to respond to that so we will be kind of all coming in with butterflies as we try to have this experience,” Budde told the AFRO. “There’s a lot that we’re opening ourselves up to.”
Despite the concern, the film premier went smoothly as churchgoers and activists piled into the theater to watch the documentary. Few walked out with dry eyes. The mood was somber.
In the end, film viewers were empowered by the stories of forgiveness, but felt forgiveness was a two-way street.
“The people in the story, and as Christians we learn about forgiveness, and so we were able to give that same forgiveness, to the man Mr. Roof. But it’s a two-edged sword, you have to be in the state of mind to receive it,” a filmgoer told the AFRO. “The movie taught us to continue to pray for those who can’t understand the power of forgiveness, which is taught from the Lord.”