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Black directors are making power moves in the entertainment industry. Many of them are racking up accolades for their work while breaking down racial barriers in an effort to ensure that the next generation of Black filmmakers have a seat at the table. One of those trailblazers is Chinonye Chukwu. Chukwu recently made history at the Sundance Film Festival by becoming the first Black woman to win the Grand Jury Prize for her movie Clemency, IndieWire reported.

The prize is the highest honor that is given at the festival, the news outlet writes. Chukwu’s film —which stars Alfre Woodard, Danielle Brooks, Wendell Pierce, and Aldis Hodge—is centered on a prison warden who has to carry out death row executions. The film explores how doing the executions has a psychological impact.

Chukwu, who wrote and directed the film, is humbled by the honor. “When everybody was saying ‘No’ this story does not have an audience, you, Sundance and the people who have seen this film have proven that there is an audience for this film, and I thank you,” she said in a statement, according to Deadline. “I wrote this because I wanted audiences, I wanted us, I wanted myself to connect with the ecosystem of humanity’s connected to incarceration, so we as a society can stop defining people by their worst possible acts, that we can end mass incarceration, and dismantle the mass prison industrial complex, and root our societies in true justice and mercy and freedom, which is all tied to our joy inside, that nobody can ever incarcerate or execute.”

The filmmaker joins a distinguished list of pivotal directors who have won the Grand Jury Prize for their U.S. Dramatic entries, including Ryan Coogler, Damien Chazelle, and Desiree Akhavan. Black women in entertainment are starting off the year strong. In January, Marsai Martin made history as Hollywood’s youngest executive producer, Regina Hall became the first Black woman to receive a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress, and Taraji P. Henson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


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