The crowd was feverish with anticipation to see their NBA All-Star darling, Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, who, because of flight delays, was late to the stage at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium on Wednesday night.
Curry was at the Mecca to premiere the documentary, Emanuel, the doleful story of the 2015 murder of nine parishioners during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by 21-year-old Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C. The film—set for release in theaters June 17, the fourth anniversary of the shooting—is produced by Curry’s new production company, Unanimous Media, along with Viola Davis’ and Julius Tennon’s JuVee Productions.
The story is told from the perspective of the family members of the nine victims—senior pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney; Cynthia Hurd; Depayne Middleton-Doctor; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; Susie Jackson; Myra Thompson; Tywanza Sanders; Ethel Lance; and Daniel Simmons—with voices that express equal parts anguish and inspiration. After the screening, journalist Lauretta Charlton moderated a discussion with Curry, his business partner Jeron Smith and director Brian Ivie.
The film provides historical context to the city of Charleston as the main port where enslaved Africans came to the United States. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union because of fears that President Lincoln would not protect the institution of slavery. Black churches flourished in South Carolina after the Civil War and Emancipation. The churches that sprung up, in many ways, were symbols of freedom, anti-slavery resistance, social justice and hope. Whites were threatened by the growth of black churches, and church burnings were frequent.
Charleston’s Mother Emanuel A.M.E. is the oldest A.M.E church in the South; it is also the church of Denmark Vesey, the leader of a slave revolt, who planned to bring enslaved Africans to Haiti for refuge. He and his followers were executed and the church was destroyed; it didn’t come back into existence until after the Civil War.
The film also deals with South Carolina’s present—a state that only acquiesced to removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol after the fallout from the murders at Emanuel but still has supporters who raise it every year in defiance.
Photo: Guillermo Hernandez Martinez (The Players’ Tribune)