Temple Alum Chinonye Chukwu (TFM '10): First Black Woman Director to Win Sundance Grand Jury Prize

Temple Alum Chinonye Chukwu (TFM '10): First Black Woman Director to Win Sundance Grand Jury Prize

Feb 5 2019

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer (Getty Images)

Chinonye Chukwu (TFM ‘10) who studied film at Temple, has the distinction of being the first Black woman to take home top honors at Sundance Film Festival - the coveted GRAND JURY PRIZE. 

CLEMENCY, the film Chukwu is being recognized for, is a deep dive into problems surrounding the American criminal justice system as well as in the ideology of the death penalty.  It stars Alfre Woodard as a prison warden Bernadine Williams,  who connects meaningfully with a prisoner who is set to be excecuted (played by Aldis Hodge).

In an insightful interview on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, Chukwu mentioned her time at Temple and implies that it was her MFA that gave her parents the confidence to know that she was ready to be on her own in the world.  

The Nigerian-American director says: "I went to Temple University. I earned my MFA in film, focusing on screenwriting and directing. And that’s when my parents moved back to Nigeria. They were like, “All right, the baby is good.” 

Doing more than just good, in addition to the lauds and awards she's received for this film, Chukwu has just been tapped to direct a film based on the life of Black Panther party leader Elaine Brown. 

There is no doubt that this award is a huge deal -- prior recipients include films that gleaned Oscar nods such as  PRECIOUS, WHIPLASH and BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD to name a few recent examples. The fact that it is the first time this award has been given to a Black woman hopefully shows an incremental shift in pushing past the racial and gender biases that notoriously underscore the film industry, particularly behind the camera. 

Keep an eye out for CLEMENCY in wider release and the stunning career of Chukwu! Owls work!


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