New Documentary Homegoings Explores African-American Funeral Traditions

October 5, 2015

There was a time I thought about dressing up, and providing beauty services for the deceased, but that thought came and went quickly after realizing viewing dead bodies, and having interaction with them, was not something I could get used to.. It’s an odd job, but somebody has to do it. It’s just could probably never be me.

In Harlem, 62-year-old Isaiah Owens is known as “Fix Em,” for his ability to repair dead bodies ravaged by disease, mishap or violence; in the forthcoming PBS documentary “Homegoings,” he’s known as a legendary Harlem undertaker with a penchant for bringing the beauty and grace of African-American funerals to life.

“Everybody knows it’s there, but nobody wants to talk about it,” Owens said in an interview with the New York Daily News, referencing his goal for the film — to bring death out of the closet.

Filmed at Owens Funeral Home in New York City, “Homegoings” takes an up-close look at the rarely seen world of undertaking in the black community, as PBS’ synopsis of the film explains.

And while Owens aims to open a conversation on death in a way that he says captures grief and sadness, alongside the humor and sense of relief that he sometimes observes behind the camera, he does so with a reverence for the occasion that was largely absent from TLC’s “Best Funeral Ever,” which also promised to offer a look at African-American funeral traditions.

According to PBS:

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.”

“Homecomings” makes its national broadcast premiere on Monday, June 24, 2013, at 10 p.m. Check out a trailer in the video below.