Homegoings (2013) Movie Script

-[Isaiah] There was
always people like me.
They might have not had a name,
but they just kind of took care
of the dead.
piano music
And when I was a child,
I created make believe funerals.
People thought that I was
strange because I was having
this love affair with funerals,
and I guess death and dying.
Of course, no one understood it.
And death always
made people very,
very uncomfortable.
Especially to my mother.
Now they just realize I was
just born to do what I'm doing.
-These flowers, they
got delivered too early.
They're with them.
-[Isaiah] In this life, it can
get so rough that you want to go
someplace to get some rest.
When it comes to
death and funerals,
African American
people, we have our own way.
It has worked for us
throughout the ages.
It has kept us balanced, sane,
and everybody know that it's
gonna be a sad, good time.
-I know my
brothers and my sisters,
we are sad for today.
But I'm not gonna let you
be sad while I'm standing.
Because we're here
for a celebration.
Not a celebration of death.
But a celebration of a new life.
-[man] We sometimes
fall out and faint.
Get everybody all fired up.
We have a way of
releasing what is within us.
-This is my mom,
um, back in 1955,
56, so she was about five or
six years old in first grade.
She was 59 when she passed away,
and she was diagnosed with multi
myeloma, which is a
cancer to bone marrow.
-[man] In our culture, the
person that does your eulogy
usually can stir the people
up to make them get really,
really excited so it gets them
over that threshold of grief and
sadness and to the point
of feeling like celebration,
or celebrating, because usually
there's a good message for the
-As Kathleen laid
in the hospital bed,
she was afraid of
where she was going.
She don't know what
it's gonna be like.
She know what her
surroundings are like now,
but she doesn't really know
what her future's gonna be like.
But she made prior preparation.
Where are we going?
We are going
yonder to see the Lord!
We are going
yonder to see the Lord!
-My mom's is gone.
She's gone.
And I think that, um,
the reality hasn't set in.
-[woman] [singing]
-[woman] I'm still thinking
she's in the hospital and I'm
gonna go see her.
It was a long two month journey.
woman sings gospel music
No more cancer.
No more pain pills.
No more sleepless nights.
woman sings gospel music
dramatic music
-[man] Thank you for calling,
and welcome to the Isaiah Owens
Funeral Home, conveniently
located in the center of Harlem.
Our hours are
Monday through Friday,
9 AM to 8:30 PM.
Isaiah Owens Funeral Service.
Where beauty softens your grief.
-I've been in the funeral
business now for 42 years.
Here at the funeral home,
I work with my wife Lily.
My daughter, I call her DD, but
her name is Shaniqua Princess.
And my son Isaiah Christopher.
-Um, it's free.
When you come in
for your remains,
just ask for them and
they'll give them to you.
-It's called liquid tissue.
Um, probably a first cousin to
botox that you get when you're
Except you get this
after you pass away.
And what it's doing,
what I'm doing now,
is this lady is 98 years old.
I'm trying to make
her look like this.
Um, I need some crazy glue.
In the 80s, you had, whew, if
it was ten people downstairs who
had died, there were
probably four homicides,
four people, five
people with AIDS.
Now, most of the people that
come are people that die from
natural causes.
Heart problems.
Especially in our community.
We have a lot of
death from strokes.
I've been called to do
this work by a higher power,
so at the end of my life, I
might have failed at a lot of
things when I stand before God,
but I can check off one thing.
And that's well
done for the bodies.
Because every body
that he gave me,
I gave it back to him splendid
and good and I never slighted
So the work that he
put here for me to do,
I did 100 percent.
Other things I
probably came real short.
-You know I've been a
red head my whole life.
-[Isaiah] Huh?
-You know that.
-[Isaiah] What happened?
I've just been sick a lot and
I ain't want to put the family
through it.
-[Isaiah] Okay, yeah.
-Especially my children.
-[Isaiah] Yeah.
You got a budget you
want to stay within?
I don't want to spend too much.
-The 1800 ones,
the 1800 dollar plots,
you can put this
kind of a stone.
The one for 1650 you
gotta use this guy.
-Flat like this one.
Marker on the ground.
-So you gotta walk all the way
up to it in order to see it.
But with these, you
can see it from--
-From a distance.
-Oh, yeah, I like those.
-It's just 150
dollars difference.
This is a pre-arrangement.
-And your middle name?
Or middle initial?
-In the red dress.
-How old are you kids now?
-My son is 33 and Mona's 17.
-Oh, okay.
-My daughter.
She's getting ready
to go to college.
It's good your doing this.
Because they
would be in a tizzy.
-[Linda] When I
talk about death,
I talk about it like living.
I don't know if that's the
way I was raised in church,
but there was a time
that I would've been like,
oh, I don't want
to talk about it, too.
The more you go on as life,
you see that you have to say,
let's prepare for this.
It's going to happen eventually.
-Now, let's get
this hair color down.
Just in case you don't get a
chance to get your hair done
before it's time.
What is the color of
this red you've got?
-[Linda] Red on red.
-Red on red?
By who?
-Can I call you and give
you back that information?
-[Isaiah] Call me and
give me your hair color,
because you know how
particular you are.
Red on red.
-We have to have you red.
And you saw that--
-[Isaiah] And
that's a rinse or a dye?
Cause he know I want red.
-[Isaiah] Yeah.
-You know I want a red outfit.
And I was showing her
this top last night.
-And how much embalming fluid
can we get done in the boob?
-All right!
I want 'em up!
-[Isaiah] The botox boobs.
-I want 'em up!
I'm talking to you.
They say, "Oh, she
looks beautiful!
Oh, her boobs look nice."
-You can get it if you want it.
-You know I have to
get that to say my name,
and he gonna put A.K.A.
-That's what they
call you for real?
-Since about 74, 73,
mostly everybody calls me Redd.
So if somebody
comes to the funeral,
they have to have "A.K.A. Redd"
because a lot of
people don't know me as Linda.
Some people just
know me as Redd.
And even if you
don't make it Redd,
you can make it clear like
this and put the red in it,
-[Isaiah] Yeah.
Like the red tip
for the greenness.
Something like that.
-[Isaiah] Are those
called French nails?
These is my nails in silk wrap.
I didn't know you
ask all of that.
-[Isaiah] You can't
talk after you're gone.
-[Linda] I'm not trying to
spend a whole lot of money.
-[Isaiah] Listen.
You're doing this for you.
And that's why you're doing it.
You've got no one
to second guess.
You can figure
out what you want.
Do what you want to do.
piano music
-I know one day
it's gonna happen,
and I don't want it to
happen but it's gonna happen.
So I had to deal with
the talking about it.
Because there would be
times where I'd say to myself,
why am I doing this?
But it's something that I had to
do to alleviate the pain for my
-[Isaiah] Your
total comes to 9734.
-[Linda] Homegoing.
A happy occasion.
They are going
home to be at peace.
If you're sick,
you're at peace, okay?
If your time to go, you're going
home to meet the ones that went
on before you and
they're waiting for you.
I don't
want to leave my family never,
but it's a homegoing.
And I'll be home waiting
for them when they come.
-That's it.
-I don't have the
answer to everything.
I just want to be, when I go,
just be happy that I spent the
time that I spent with you,
and try not to cry too much or
grieve too long.
But remember the time
we shared together.
piano music
-[Isaiah] I'm the owner of Owens
Funeral Home in New York City,
and Owens Funeral
Home in Branchville,
South Carolina.
My mother works two days a
week at the funeral home in
She's like the receptionist.
-[Isaiah] When I was a kid,
you wouldn't get my mother in a
funeral home.
If she went, she went because
there was a reason she had to go
and, you know, she wasn't
so comfortable with death.
And I guess nobody is
comfortable with death.
At five years old, I dug a
hole, buried a match stick,
put the dirt over it,
put some flowers over it,
so actually that
was my first funeral.
These are the men.
This is a lady.
This is the hearse.
Family's coming to the church.
That's when the bell rings.
When I was growing
up, I buried frogs.
I buried chickens.
I buried the
mew that died.
I buried the neighbor's dog.
And the dog's name was Snowball.
One day they found
Snowball under the house dead.
So they came and got me
and I buried Snowball.
Except a snake.
Snakes just got thrown
into the woods or whatever.
This is a pregnant lady.
This is an old man.
They thought I
was a mental case.
-[woman] I don't know
where he got it from.
I don't know
where he got it from.
[chuckles] He was a myth.
But that was his calling.
piano music
-[Isaiah] Earth to earth.
Ashes to ashes.
Dust to dust.
I was isolated and lonely but I
had a business under the house.
I had my funeral home.
It was the only little place in
my life that I felt comfortable.
My father was a sharecropper.
Everybody that lived in the
house was out picking cotton and
you got paid two cents a pound.
So if you picked 200
pounds of cotton in a day,
you got paid four
dollars at the end of the day.
When I was growing up,
people buried people by planting
You know, they would
go to the funeral home,
and someone would die, and they
would sign a promissory note
that when the cotton
is ready this year,
they're gonna come back and pay.
dramatic music
The black funeral home director
wound up being a friend.
Somebody in the
community that was stable.
Appeared to have means.
When I was growing up,
we didn't have a telephone.
Whenever somebody got sick,
they would call Mr. Bird at the
funeral home.
And then he would ride out into
the country to tell my mother
that such and such was sick
in Philadelphia and that your
sister called.
-[Isaiah] The funeral
business have long had a strong
relationship in
the black community.
Probably because it was a
business that white people never
really wanted to do.
We're their brothers
and their sisters.
We are family.
We don't go outside of the
family when trouble comes.
-I see some up there.
-I see them right here.
I've had to bury everybody.
I've buried my
sister, my father,
my nephew, my brother.
I've buried one, two, um, three
of my mother's sisters probably
and four of her brothers.
And their wives, most
of them, or husbands.
I've buried a lot
of family members.
piano music
My grandfather,
who was the first black
insurance agent in the state of
South Carolina, was
getting ready to start a funeral
business when he
was killed, I think,
in 1946.
Maybe I kind of took over
where my grandfather left off.
-[singing] I am free
Praise the Lord, I am free
No longer bound, no
more chains holding me
My soul is resting
Ain't that a blessing
Praise the Lord
Hallelujah, I'm free
-[Isaiah] I think that there
was a time when the slaves were
Sometimes by their
owners by whatever means.
It wasn't a proper funeral,
but they kind of did their best,
even with the restrictions that
was put upon them when they got
into the woods away from the
slave masters and it was having
They came up with
these songs like,
"Soon I will be done with
the troubles of the world.
Going home to live with my god.
No more weeping and wailing.
No more weeping and wailing."
dramatic music
For the slaves,
death meant freedom.
It meant that they would meet a
judge who would be just and fair
to them.
Even for us today,
death brings us justice.
[railroad crossing sounds]
I came to New York
when I was 17 years old.
The day that Robert Kennedy's
body was being taken to
Washington DC for burial.
I was on the bus
coming to New York.
During that summer I got a job
at a plastic factory on a 138th
Street and I worked there
until September where I started
mortuary school.
The first body that I did, I
was doing my apprenticeship with
Elizabeth Smith Funeral Home.
Elizabeth Smith was the
person who taught me.
piano music
Someone had died and
a family recommended me.
Immediately she heard about it,
so she put me out and told me
that I was going to
steal all of her business.
There used to be a lot of
funeral homes in Harlem,
but since 68 I probably could
count at least 20 or 25 funeral
homes that have
gone out of business.
Forty years ago you had your
allegiance to your mom and pop
funeral home.
All of that generation that
went to the little small funeral
homes is finished.
I get faxes from different
companies that says to me,
uh, if you're interested
in selling that we would be
interested in buying.
But at this particular point I
don't think that I'm interested
in selling because I'm trying
to create a business that could
take care of my
family for the next 100,
200 years.
-This is the--
That's right for that...
-As a child growing up I
was always petrified of,
uh, hearses and the dead.
When I was growing
up, funeral directors...
they hand felt
cold, they looked...
They looked like
funeral directors.
Always in black.
Isaiah, he's, you
know, he's the jolly type.
soul music
You know when I met him,
he had the same
giggle, the same laugh,
yuppin' around when he laughs.
So that was like-- he don't
look like a funeral director.
But of course, when they told
me he was a funeral director,
I really didn't
want to meet him.
He's his own
individual, a unique person,
and I let him be who he is.
-I got this one cause they want
everything pretty much in white.
For her.
White bridal dress and all that
kind of stuff that they made.
If it looks too tacky.
I'm gonna be on the
horse and buggy anyway.
Right now, this is a costume.
In the 10.000 funerals
plus I have conducted,
there is never two
funerals the same.
African music
-My mother's name is
Petra Cruise Butler.
-She was selling
clothing on 125th Street.
She was a street vender.
-She made these Africa
gongas, which was a head wrap.
With her dashikis and gongas,
that was what supported our
-[Isaiah] My style is based
on the southern tradition of
-Listen, I would like a
horse and buggy for my mother.
Because we really
didn't know about a parade.
We just said we want
a horse and buggy.
But he says,"We're
gonna have a parade!"
-You had a Christian family.
You had a Muslim family.
You had an African family.
You had a Puerto Rican family.
And you had the whole
community that loved her.
People, once they
found out they was her,
they were just
joining the parade.
-It's like walking them down the
road and holding the family by
this hand and holding the dead
person by this hand and getting
them to that point where
they no longer need me,
and they can kind of go on.
-My sisters are Yoruba
priestesses and a lot of time
the Eguns of the ancestors
come back in different ways.
They come back and they
speak through people.
-Tell them!
I am here!
What you prayed for!
I can dance!
I can dance!
I can dance!
I can dance!
-[woman] It's almost as if
you can say my mother's body
transferred into her
body for a minute.
She was
saying, "I am here."
And then she started dancing.
My mother loved to dance.
My mother loved to dance.
-And she was talking to
the crowd and talking to us.
Giving us her last
goodbyes and last advices.
-[woman] I can dance!
I can dance!
-[woman] When they
said she was gonna die,
I said, "Mommy,
if you need to go,
then you should go."
A homegoing.
Going home to all our ancestors
and everybody that left before
So you really going home.
I would tell her job well done
and it was an honor being her
I feel that being
an undertaker...
you have to first
be a caretaker.
Not only making their
loved ones look special,
but you got to make the
ones that are left behind feel
And he does that very well.
-[Isaiah] My kids grew
up in the prep room,
anywhere a body
was, they were there.
So for most people, that
children would be afraid.
They were actually never afraid.
piano music
-As a kid growing
up, my family was,
to me, just like
any other family.
My dad just had a...
different job.
-Up, up!
Right, right. Uh-uh.
I don't want to mess
with this part right here.
-I like the business
aspect of the business.
As far as dealing
with the families,
it's too emotional
for me personally.
And with remains,
I'd rather not.
I'm fully capable of
it, but I'd rather not.
This business is his life.
24/7, 365.
Eats, sleeps.
Everything is just funerals.
-[Isaiah] I remember
the first family I did.
Back in 1970, 71.
I buried Mr. Roofesfield and
that was my first funeral.
When I look at these pictures
it makes me feel like...
we're here.
And then we're gone.
And all that's left is either
some pictures or some memories.
Last year my business probably
dropped about 65 funerals from
the year before, and it's
because of the economy.
No matter how much
you love somebody,
you've still got to eat.
You've still got
to pay your rent.
So you can't go and get yourself
put outdoors to try and get
somebody buried.
Okay we need to assemble
ourselves in couples to go over
to the grave.
You're going to be
first probably right?
I get quite a few
people that come now,
whereas they would normally have
a traditional funeral and burial
for somebody, and now the
best they can do is a direct
cremation and maybe hope to get
enough money to do a memorial
Normally in good
times families will get together
and put in 300 dollars a
piece, 400 dollars a piece,
and they just chip
in money and do it.
But now, um, you've got to try
to keep your job and they're not
doing it anymore.
piano music
You have an obligation.
When a person has
lost a loved one,
they have to give it a lot of
thought about who they're gonna
trust to take
care of that person.
And when people give
you that kind of trust...
I feel like I'm
obligated to really,
really take care of them.
piano music
-[man] I remember that Friday.
I woke up at
about eight o'clock,
and my first message was from my
grandfather letting me know that
my grandmother
passed away at 7 AM.
He was at the hospital with her,
and the nurses told me that he
was there,
holding her hand still.
It took them awhile to even get
the body out because he wouldn't
let go.
piano music
This is one of my
grandmother's modeling pictures.
She was always very fashionable.
She also told me that, you
know, when she was coming up,
how hard it was for black
women to get modeling jobs.
Or to get any jobs at all.
You know, not only as a
woman, but as a black woman.
-[Isaiah] You know, Mrs. Simon,
she was always dressed up very
And was always here with him.
He was in last week to
make her arrangements and,
uh, he just kind of
looked a little tired...
And I kind of said
to him, you know,
maybe it was just the right
timing for Mrs. Simon to go
because now you
can get some rest,
and she can get
some rest, you know?
Not knowing that the next day
he was going to be gone too.
In grief, in mourning,
I've seen people die.
piano music
-[man] When I went to
see him that Friday,
you can just see he was
glazed with weakness.
It seemed like his
reason to live was gone.
I knew right away that
maybe his time was...
was going to be short.
But I didn't expect it
to be as short as it was.
I never understood how much he
loved her until she actually got
into the nursing home.
He would literally still go to
the hospital every day and hold
her hand, kiss her
hand, rub her head.
And that's when I knew that
he was nothing without her.
-[man] [singing]
Why so much pain
I know what's best for me
My weary
eyes, they cannot see
-[man] Honestly I was thinking
too that I was dreaming.
Because who expects a
double funeral like that,
you know?
I was also having a
little bit of regret.
There's some people who
just don't want to see it all,
but for most
people, like myself,
you need that last
few minutes to...
sometimes touch,
feel, and look, you know,
and let your tears flow.
piano music
gospel music
Happy birthday to you
I just want to say this.
September 29, 2016.
We will see you right back here
in this same spot celebrating
your 100th birthday.
All right?
Five more years.
God bless you.
My mother asked me to do her
eulogy when she passes away,
and, uh, she has a second person
as a backup in case when the
time comes I'm not able to do
it or I don't want to do it.
I think it'll probably be the
most difficult day of my life.
So it would just be, um...
A mess.
I guess that's it.
It'll just be a mess.
It's not
depressing to always be in the
presence of death.
What it does is it kind of
keeps your feet on the ground.
I don't practice this all the
time but anything you need to
do, you should do it now,
because tomorrow is not promised
to you.
I'm not afraid of death
and I'm not afraid of dying.
I went some years ago and
had a living will done,
so that when my time come,
the people that love me won't
prolong my agony and
keep me here in pain.
I think that talking
about death is healthy,
but I think about
it all the time too.
I'm always at my funeral.
piano music
I remember a dream that I had.
I was trapped in this building
in the Bronx and I went up to
the top of the building and I
don't know what I was trying to
escape from.
And there I was standing
on this tall building.
And I decided I was going
to jump off the building.
I jumped off the building
and just kept flying straight
up towards Heaven.
I will always
remember that dream.
Now when they sing at funerals,
"Some glad morning when this
life is over, I'll fly
away," I know how it's done.
Because I've flown.
Because of my love for
the living and the dead.
It's why I am who I
am and do what I do.
In the midst of
life, we are in death.
They say that at
almost everybody's funeral.
In the midst of
life we are in death.
bluesy gospel music