HomegoingsI recall watching Whitney Houston’s funeral on CNN and cringing as anchor Don Lemon described and contextualized every aspect of her homegoing service. The icon’s funeral was familiar for many black Americans. Outside of the celebrity presence, it didn’t differ much from other funerals I’ve attended at Baptist churches. But Houston’s homegoing was a unique experience for the general American public as evidenced by Lemon’s commentary.

Filmmaker Christine Turner dissected African-American funeral traditions in her debut feature documentary “Homegoings.” The film “explores the African-American funeral home, a 150 year-old institution that is now vanishing” according to a press release. It is “told through the eyes of a Harlem funeral director, Isaiah Owens, and the families he serves.”

Turner was inspired to create the film after the death of two close relatives with different cultural traditions.

“When I was 13, both of my grandmothers passed away within two weeks of one another,” she said. “My mom’s mother, who was Chinese-American, happened to be Methodist and was cremated, which was very atypical for traditional Chinese funerals. My father’s mother, who was African-American and Catholic, had an open-casket funeral—the first I had ever attended, leaving an indelible impression on me.”

Turner has been working on “Homegoings” since late 2011, when she received $150,000 from the Tribeca Documentary Fund to complete production. The film made its debut in February at the 2013 Documentary Fortnight at the Museum of Modern Art. It was well-received and selected for the MoMA Selects: POV, a series described by Shadow & Act as “homage to PBS’ longest-running showcase for independent documentary film, with a special selection of films from the series’ past 25 years.”

“Homegoings” will reach national audiences when it kicks off the 26 season of the award-winning POV series.

The press release describes the film as an “up-close look at the rarely seen world of undertaking in the black community, where funeral rites draw on a rich palette of tradition, history and celebration.”

It continues:

Combining cinéma vérité with intimate interviews and archival photographs, the film paints a portrait of the dearly departed, their grieving families and a man who sends loved ones “home.” Homegoings is a moving portrait of a man and a people—and of the faith, hope and history that sustain them in the face of death.

Turner hopes her film will open dialogue about the impact of death.

“Whatever our beliefs, death is something we all must face, and yet it is so often a taboo subject,” she said. “With ‘Homegoings,’ I wanted to open a conversation on death in a way that captured grief and sadness, but also the humor and the sense of relief that I sometimes observed from behind the camera.”

“Homegoings” will debut on PBS Monday, June 24, 2013 10/9c.

You can learn more about the film on its Facebook page and website.

Will you be watching “Homegoings?”

  • Mary J

    Interesting. I attended a family funeral at the Isaiah Owens funeral home in Harlem and I expected great things after reading about the funeral home and seeing how well he made up bodies for this exhibit:


    He did a good job with the body, but the funeral was poorly orchestrated. The family owned funeral homes my family have dealt with in the south do a better job with the details of managing a funeral and a burial.

  • Shirl

    I do not want a funeral!!! My family knows that when I die I want a celebration. A family reunion type celebration if you will. And because I have loads of insurance, what the hell…party’s on me!!! There will Definetly be NO VIEWING of “the body”. I don’t want folk gawking at me laid out in some overly expensive box wearing too light foundation and a godawful curly wig…no thank you, I’m good…. -_-

  • k

    i will definitely watch this is interesting. I must agree with the author in that Whitney Houstons funeral was a pivotal moment for me as well because the way the african american journalist were having to spell out every detail and when I turned to pIers morgan and he kept saying how moved he was and how he had never seen anything like this. i realized how different “our” funerals are. I had honestly never thought of out funerals being a cultural thing so i will definitely watch this

  • Fit_MissC

    As a Canadian, Catholic, I’ve only seen African-America funerals portrayed on film and in some cases it might have been embellished for entertainment purposes. I’m interested in watching this documentary to get a real POV on how people say goodbye to their loved ones.

  • justanotheropinion

    Thank you for paying respect to your mother and what she would have wanted at her funeral. You did her proud.

  • Marisa

    The same stupidity was displayed during Michael funeral in 2009, some dope on another network saw the Jackson family arriving at a restaurant, said the family was now off to a “party”. Hello its a repast which is something many cultures do but, probably call it something different. Also does every aspect of black life need a damn special, white folks have had ample time to “get to know” black people and understand how we do things and live our lives but, that would require an actual effort on many of their parts, so per usual its the cheat sheet method of some documentary or some other form of entertainment. The only special involving funerals that remotely interested me was on CNBC had one about the funeral industry and just how big of a business it all really is.

  • AygirlAygirl

    Has anyone seen “best funeral ever”?

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    lawddd i hope they explain the casket pictures that people take. i’m black and i don’t understand those! i can’t stand seeing people’s facebook profile pictures being a dead person in a casket. what the hell?

    i wonder if they’ll also explain why middle aged black women funeral hop the same way that folks club hop. it don’t make no sense for people to be getting excited about the repast and whose potato salad or peach cobbler was the best at whoever’s funeral (side- eye). how can you eat while having a conversation about who looked “real good” in the casket?

    i’m puzzled.lol

  • http://gravatar.com/beejcee beejcee

    If that is the show on the TLC network, I watched one episode. The episode where the young man had a disability and could not ride most rides at amusement parks. After he died he was cremated and the urn was taken to the amusement park and the family was overjoyed by the whole process, I guess that was his repast. I haven’t been able to catch any other of the episodes. Are they still on the air? Maybe a different day?

  • Felicia

    I think that African American funerals/homegoing services are one of the few cultural traditions that are still intact. We have lost our language and much of customs throughout slavery, but when it comes to death, there are still some customs that persist. For example, if anyone dies in my family, it is absolutely necessary to bring food when you go visit the home. It is also required to help clean to prepare for additional family and friends to visit. It may seem like a small thing, but it is a custom.

    On another note, the African-American community is often criticized because of their food choices and struggles with weight. I hope people realize that food is a part of how we celebrate (e.g., weddings, funerals, birthdays, graduations). Food and sharing is a part of our culture, we just need to do it in moderation.

  • Marisa

    Also they should probably add in the brouhaha that often occurs about who deserves to ride in the “family” car, them true colors start showing then about who is or isn’t considered family lol. The best funeral hopper of all time was on Good Times Wanda, she stayed crying about somebody even when they weren’t dead yet, and their potential funeral lol.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    RIGHT! LOL that’s usually the hottest mess ever! they should also show the classic “TAKE ME TOO LAWWDD” moments when people try to jump in the casket or on top of it when it’s going down. smh

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    my mexican neighbors thought it was cruel to bring food and have a “party” when somebody died (side-eye) there were 2 deaths in my family throughout the years and obviously family members came and consoled us and brought a million cakes,pies,spaghetti platters, and albertson’s fried chicken. my neighbors til this day poke fun at me by saying that we’re happy the person died and have a damn near block party. aha

    they said that for them they don’t eat, they pray and cry…

  • Anon

    Well if I EVER wanted to know who had a career in writing, filmmaking, etc… but didn’t have the actual talent to get anything moving, all I have to do is look at everyone who’s decided to make a “black” entertainment thing with nothing else behind their resume’ of note. As SOON as a black president was in office, alla’ sudden, folks have information they need to “share”.

    I personally find it disgusting that so many of “us” are trying so hard to sell out ANYthing about “black americans” for a dollar and recognition. Black women’s hair? Chris Rock made a movie. Colorism? That actor dude made a movie (curiously, not discussing black men’s involvement to any length). Obesity? Don’t worry, now we have a video series talking about “black women work out too”… LIKE WE DIDN’T BEFORE? Jesus, now it’s time to put the DEAD on display to “discuss”? Chile… … … … …, and folks have wondered why I don’t really hang out with too many black people anymore since 2009.

  • Anon

    Ya’ll need to quit playin! This “obesity” epidemic in the black community is only about 25 years old. Round ’bout the time when traditional family units became a distinct minority, rap/rape music became the norm, and drugs rattled many inner cities to the core. I swear, every week, folks try to act like there was nothing but “big mamas” after the age of 20 since the dawn of black people being in this country.

  • persephone

    Hey there –

    What movie about colorism are you talking about?

    I missed it I guess…

  • persephone

    SOOOO LOVE YOUR COMMENT —> “white folks have had ample time to “get to know” black people and understand how we do things and live our lives but, that would require an actual effort on many of their parts, so per usual its the cheat sheet method of some documentary or some other form of entertainment.”

  • Alfalfa

    I’ve only ever been to funerals for black people and besides religious differences I’ve never really thought about how funerals for whites and other POC might be different. Half of my family is Catholic and half is Protestant (mostly Baptist), so there’s variation, but I can’t imagine people coming over to the house and not bringing food. I can’t imagine not having a repast. I mean, the mourning family members have to eat and they’re very likely in no state to be cooking.

    Looking back, one of the first funerals I went to was for a family friend. He was a DC politician, so a lot of his associates were in attendance. I never thought about how it might have been an unfamiliar ceremony for them. He was Catholic though, so perhaps it wasn’t all that different.

    Family cars are some drama though.

  • persephone


    You are soooo right!

  • Carol

    “For Dark Girls”

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