BLM’s cancel sandwich
Documentary Paint the Wall Black shows the high cost of resistance to a social justice movement
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As protests erupted across the United States after the death of George Floyd last May, supporters of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement pressured businesses to advocate for them or literally be destroyed. Paint the Wall Black: The Story of Nini’s Deli, streaming free on YouTube, tells the story of the rise and fall of a Christian-owned, top-rated Chicago restaurant whose owner, Juan-Elias Riesco, refused demands to champion BLM.
The documentary opens with Nini’s beginnings as a grocery store founded by Riesco’s immigrant parents, Julie and Jose. Riesco took a circuitous path to become a beloved and eventually persecuted deli owner. He spent his youth in San Francisco sampling from a menu of exploits—substance abuse, criminal activity, and homosexual promiscuity—until his mother persuaded him to return home to work in the family business and attend church.
Riesco dedicated his life to Christ after hearing the gospel at the Metro Praise International church pastored by Joe Wyrostek. With a newfound faith, Riesco’s philosophy toward customer service catapulted Nini’s to consistent five-star reviews on Yelp. As its reputation grew, corporations like Nike and Adidas partnered with Nini’s. But the wave of success slammed into a wall in June 2020.
Advocates of BLM urged proprietors to display a black square of support on their Instagram accounts. Riesco declined, opting to refrain from any political statements. His social media accounts exploded with people questioning why he hadn’t posted support for BLM or shared the BLM donation website with his followers.
In response, Riesco posted a statement that he summarizes in the film: “We believe all lives matter because all lives are made in the image of God.”
Public reaction was swift and overwhelming. Corporate partners publicly denounced Riesco. People threatened to riot and burn down the deli. Instead of buckling to mounting pressure, Riesco saw an opportunity to preach the gospel: “No matter how vicious they were, I knew these people needed Christ.”
Warned in advance of the upcoming public protest, Riesco, his brother Jose, and Metro Praise church members gathered outside Nini’s to meet with the protesters. Jose preached against abortion and homosexuality, calling for repentance and offering salvation through Jesus—all while the crowd screamed expletives and physical threats. (The film edits out the bad language, but includes mild violence and offensive gestures by protesters.)
The social justice zealots threatened to kill the Riesco family members, destroy their homes, and burn their church, but throughout the film, Riesco and his family and allies emphasize an opposite message—the hope of Christ’s love and salvation.
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