I feel like a broken record, but I spent most of today nursing a fever, so forgive me if today’s post is on the short side. Illness aside, I got out of bed this evening long enough to watch a film and write this post. And like every other day this month, I made sure to watch a film by a Black director for Black History Month.
Clemency (2019, Dir. Chinonye Chukwu)
Well, that was bleak. Going into the viewing my only real knowledge of the film was that the film received some Indie Spirit nominations last year and what the word clemency means. While I was prepared for the film to be about death row, I wasn’t prepared for it to be that dark.
Director Chinonye Chukwu does something interesting with the subject in Clemency. When telling the story of a death row inmate hoping to be spared execution, the inmate would be the standard choice for a protagonist. This viewpoint decision forces the audience to grapple with sympathizing with a violent criminal inducing inner turmoil. Chukwu instead focuses on the warden, Bernadine (Alfre Woodard). While this should ostensibly be an easier character to support, it proves to be harder. By the time the film begins, Anthony (Aldis Hodge) has been in prison for 15 years. Whether he is guilty of murder or not is almost irrelevant from an audience point-of-view; what matters is that he is fighting to stay alive while Bernadine, our protagonist, is doing her job preparing to kill him. While she may be following the law and just doing her job, as the one doing the killing in the timeframe in which the film take place her internal struggles mimic our own upon viewing. An interesting take on the subject that I do not plan on visiting again. At least not for a long time.