Five discussion questions for the movie, to be used on your own or in a small group.
National headlines blazed the story: Churchgoers Gunned Down During Prayer Service in Charleston, South Carolina. After a 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire in the church, nine African Americans lay dead—leaving their families and the nation to grapple with this senseless act of terror.
Forty-eight hours later, in the midst of unspeakable grief and suffering, the families of the Emanuel Nine stood in court facing the killer…and offered words of forgiveness. Their demonstration of grace ushered the way for hope and healing across a city and the nation.
It’s the story that rocked a city and a nation as it happened…and in the days that followed. Marking the fourth anniversary of the event, executive producers Stephen Curry and Viola Davis, co-producer Mariska Hargitay, and director Brian Ivie (The Drop Box) present Emanuel: The documentary weaves the history of race relations in Charleston, the significance and impact of Mother Emanuel Church, and the hope that somehow emerges in the aftermath.
Featuring intimate interviews with survivors and family members, Emanuel tells a story of justice and faith, love, and hate, examining the healing power of forgiveness.
1. A Charleston historian made the following statement: “Racism is as American as apple pie.”
As an American, how does this statement make you feel? Do you agree/disagree? In what ways do you feel this statement indicts you as an American?
2. The movie shows a video clip of Dylan Roof being arrested by several police officers. The policeman holstered his gun as he approached the car. This was contrasted by several videos of unarmed Black men being murdered by the police or violently arrested by the police.
What message does this communicate to you? What emotion did this invoke?
3. On July 10th, 2015, the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina Statehouse. This took place 23 days after the shooting at Emanuel AME church.
Why do you believe it took so long for South Carolina to decide to remove the Confederate flag? What do you think it was about the church shooting that finally caused this to happen?
4. The movie cites the statistic that 40% of enslaved Africans were brought into the US through Charleston Harbor.
What do you think the city government of Charleston should do to move in a positive direction towards denouncing their roots with slavery, as well as honoring their historical past? What do you think would result if Charleston changed the names of prominent Confederate figures on their roads and buildings, similar to what occurred in South Africa after the end of apartheid?
5. In the movie, victims were allowed the unusual and unexpected opportunity to speak directly to the shooter in the courtroom only two days after the shooting, and they took this opportunity to voice their forgiveness. This brings to mind the actions of an Amish community in Pennsylvania after the murder of five of their children: shortly thereafter, leaders from the community attended the funeral of the shooter to demonstrate their forgiveness of what he did to their community.
What effect does a quick proclamation of forgiveness have on the healing process? What is required to truly process the pain and devastation that such an act causes? What does Biblical forgiveness mean? What does it look like?
Tia Gaines co-leads the Grace and Race Ministry, alongside her husband Joel, at Risen Hope Church in Drexel Hill, PA. Victor Ko is a member of the Grace and Race Task Force at Risen Hope.
For more discussion questions, download the guide created by the makers of the film in partnership with Sojourners.