Chinonye Chukwu Is The First Black Woman to Win Sundance Film Festival’s Biggest Prize

Her film, “Clemency,” is a gripping death row drama starring Alfre Woodard. It won the festival's Grandy Jury Prize for U.S. dramatic entry.
Paula Rogo Feb, 03, 2019

Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu just became the first Black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for her U.S. Dramatic entry, Clemency.

According to Indiewire, Chukwu was part of an already banner year at the festival, with all the four jury prizes going to women. But Chukwu had additional acclaim in being the first Black woman to win the Grand Jury Prize — the festival’s highest honors, as voted on by individual juries — for her category.

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The Nigerian-American filmmaker both wrote and directed the death row drama, starring Alfre Woodard as a prison warden struggling with the emotional demands of her job.

“I am so thankful and can’t wait to share this film with the world!” Chukwu said on Instagram.

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In 2012, director Ava DuVernay became the first Black woman to win a directing award at the annual festival, for Middle of Nowhere.

DuVernay acknowledged Chukwu’s historic win with a tweet: “Congrats to [Chinonye Chukwu] and the cast and crew of her film,” she wrote.

Clemency is still seeking U.S. distribution.

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Chukwu’s next project is directing an adaptation of former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown’s memoir, A Taste of Power.