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Emanuel (2019)

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I don't think it would be possible to give this a "Rotten" on RT, but I also have a hard time recommending it


The film itself doesn’t emotionally manipulate viewers through technique. It doesn’t have to. The content is emotional enough. But in another sense, it is a problem that Emanuel isn’t quite up to solving–viewers don’t come to these stories without previous knowledge or experience. Some will know the story and will want or need a perspective with which to frame it. Others will have perspectives of their own that will require them (or the film) to scrutinize some of its assumptions before celebrating them.


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Interesting, Ken. I had a much more positive response to the film, which I thought did a decent job of establishing its priors and offering sufficient perspective for the target audience, or at least for the portion of the target audience I’m most in tune with, i.e., reasonably open-minded white American Christians who either know there’s a lot about the black American experience they don’t know or are at least open to that insight. 

But it doesn’t surprise me that you had a different take. On topics relating to deadly violence and ways of reacting to, depicting, or framing it, your perspective is obviously different from mine, and in one way more authoritative. I don’t know, but it’s possible my experience of the film might be more common. 

My review.


Forgiveness, for Christian viewers, is a unifying theme. But Emanuel also pushes back on the tendency of white Americans to see Dylann Roof purely as an isolated anomaly rather than a symptom of any kind of larger problem.

Certainly the kind of card-carrying, violent racial hatred embodied by Roof, or displayed at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a fringe phenomenon, easily identified and easily disowned by the majority.

But racism comes in many forms … Watching video of Roof’s arrest, a family member calls out something I might not have noticed: the arresting officers approach Roof’s car from behind with guns drawn—but the first holsters his gun before approaching the driver side window. The other holsters his gun moments later.

This is a mass murderer who two days earlier had shot nine people to death. Would a black suspect who had killed nine white churchgoers have been taken so nonchalantly? Emanuel reminds us that only two months earlier that Walter Scott, a black man, was killed in North Charleston by a hail of bullets from behind while fleeing a white officer.

Forgiveness is a radical act. So is speaking against injustices suffered by minorities but easily overlooked by the majority. Emanuel challenges viewers to recognize the importance of both.


Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Thanks for sharing your review.

I am uncomfortable with the use of "authoritative," though I recognize that the "in one way" qualifies it.  It's been my experience as a peripheral victim impacted by gun violence and a witness to others that such traumas can dull one's capacity for reason, forgiveness, or even non-personal judgments about what is in the public good.  As a matter of personal relationships, its fine to recognize someone's greater experience with trauma. As a foundation for social expectations or even public policy, it's dangerous, and it can (and I think has) reduced those trauma victims to agitprops That's not across the board, of course, and the way one frames and responds to trauma changes over time. But I generally tend to be wary of political arguments or social calls that are motivated by what will or will not give closure, healing, payback, or satisfaction for the victims. As this film shows, the victims themselves often don't know what that is.

I don't think that is what Steven is doing here. I think he's just acknowledging that he knows my family history and is being respectful of it. I just bring it up as a way of that my ambivalence about the film's presentation is less about about different values regarding what the victims should have done as in this film's overall tone of praise suggesting that such questions are less complicated than I think they are. (Then again, maybe they aren't. There are plenty of commands in Christian New Testament that haven't so much been tried and found impractical or unhealthy as assumed to be wrong and left untried.)

Perhaps because we just did the Growing Older list, I'd love to see a follow up of Emanuel in 7-10 years to see how they have changed, if at all, and/or how the decision to take the very difficult road of emotional forgiveness impacted them in other areas of life. (The film argues that such an impact will, inevitably, be positive, but I'd like this argument to be a bit more detailed.)

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