News Brief
Chinonye Chukwu at the world premiere of her film, "Clemency" at Sundance Film Festival 2019. Photo by Stephen Speckman courtesy of the Sundance Institute.

Chinonye Chukwu Is the First Black Woman to Win a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

The Nigerian-American director leaves Sundance Film Festival 2019 making history.

Chinonye Chukwu is the Nigerian-American director who truly left a mark on this year's Sundance Film Festival. The raving reviews of her film Clemency are not the only valuables she'll be leaving the festival with, as she is taking home the Grand Jury Prize for the U.S. Dramatic competition, Indie Wire reports.

This win makes her the first black woman to snag the festival's biggest prize. She is now among U.S. Dramatic winners including Ryan Coogler, Desiree Akhavan, Debra Granik and more directors to take home this prize.

The Nigerian-born, Alaska-raised screenwriter, producer, director and activist both wrote and directed the drama that stars Alfre Woodard, who plays a prison warden grappling with how emotionally demanding her job is. Here's the brief synopsis from Sundance below:

Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill.

"I did a deep, deep, 4 year dive into the research and advocacy required to tell this story...and that was just scratching the surface," Chukwu says in an interview with Democracy Now.

The filmmaker has also received more words of congratulations from the film world on social media, including Ava DuVernay and Tessa Thompson.




Chukwu is set to helm A Taste of Power next, a drama based on former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown's life. Read more about the project here.

Film
Actor Sam Adewunmi as 'Femi' in 'The Last Tree.' Photo courtesy of Sundance.

The Director and Star of 'The Last Tree' Speak on the Endless Search for Identity Growing Up Nigerian and British

At the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, we chat with director Shola Amoo and actor Sam Adewunmi about finding self in the midst of cultural non-conformism.

In the opening scene of The Last Tree, we see the young protagonist, Femi (played as a child by Tai Golding), screaming at the top of his lungs while frolicking in the fields of Lincolnshire in the British countryside, in ecstatic happiness. He is a young Nigerian-British boy surrounded by his (white) classmates from a preppy-seeming local school. As the film progresses, Femi's howls turn into a symbolic cry of frustration. His aggravation is born out of the challenge of coming to terms with his own identity in the midst of competing pressures from those who dictate who he should be given the color of his skin and his heritage.

The film, which just premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is directed by Shola Amoo and is one of the four African directors to screen features in the Utah Mountains this past weekend. When it begins, Femi has a seemingly comfortable existence within the warm embrace of his foster mother, Mary (Denise Black). Soon, the idyll is shattered when his birth mother, Yinka (Gbemisola Ikumelo) appears to take her with him, against his desires, to London. Things only worsen for him from there.

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