‘Emanuel’ Documentary is a Moving Testament to Forgiveness

The film pays tribute to the victims of the Charleston shooting—on the fourth anniversary of the unfathomable tragedy—and their families.

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- Posted on Jun 17, 2019

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On June 17, 2015 nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston were were murdered by a white supremacist who targeted their Bible study because they were African American. Now, four years later, the documentary Emanuel tells the story of the shooting in a unique way, highlighting the faith of the loved ones left behind.

Rose Simmons is one of those loved ones. Her father, Reverend Daniel Simmons, a retired minister and dedicated member of the church, was the last victim of the shooting. Simmons, who began her work on the film as a family member, went on to part of the film team because of her passion and dedication to the project.

The documentary, produced by basketball star Stephen Curry and award-winning actress Viola Davis, is about much more than a horrifying act of violence. Although it focuses on the history of Charleston and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the story is ultimately about forgiveness.

Less than two days after the shooting, many of the families of victims spontaneously forgave the perpetrator in court. Their faith inspired a nation. For Simmons, who has said she prayed for the perpetrator during his trial, forgiveness has been essential.

Forgiveness for me is freedom,” Simmons told Guideposts.org. “It is the freedom to remember the great things about my father…I can speak about my father, I can speak about the perpetrator, and I can sleep at night.”

The director, Brian Ivie, said that faith and forgiveness are what set this documentary apart from other retellings of the Charleston shooting.

“There have been other attempts to tell this story,” Ivie told the Charleston Scene. “Many of them do mention forgiveness, but I also think what separates our telling from all the others is our theological understanding of where that forgiveness comes from. And that is the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Simmons agrees, adding that although she always had a strong faith, since losing her father she has found an even closer relationship with God.

“I was blessed supernaturally with that gift to forgive almost instantly,” she said. “I think what this has done [for] me is given me what I need to live out the Word and live out those tough Scriptures,” Simmons said.

Simmons is currently at work on another documentary about her father’s life.

“I want to talk more about his life and his accomplishments and who he was… [so] those that live on after me will know who he was,” Simmons said.

Emanuel is in theaters June 17 & 19.

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