Film ‘Clemency’, inspired by historic Savannah execution, spotlights criminal justice system

SCAD Savannah Film Festival

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The 22nd annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival is underway, and one of the feature films was inspired by the historic execution of a Savannah man.

“Clemency” is an American Drama inspired by the execution of Troy Davis of Savannah over eight years ago.

The film is about a prison warden whose years of carrying out death row executions are starting to take a toll on her. When she ends up connecting to an inmate she is set to execute, she struggles to keep her emotions and her marriage in a good place.

Watch the trailer:

The film was written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu and stars Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Wendell Pierce and Danielle Brooks.

Chukwu has years of research and volunteer work on clemency campaigns under her belt, but the execution of Davis in 2011 is what really motivated her to script “Clemency. “

Troy Davis (via Georgia Department of Corrections, The Associated Press)

Davis was executed on Sept. 21, 2011, after being convicted for the August 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.

MacPhail was working as a security guard at a Burger King on Oglethorpe Avenue when he tried to intervene during an altercation in a nearby parking lot. He was shot twice during the incident, and Davis was convicted of the crime.

There was a significant amount of doubt in the conviction of Davis, who maintained his innocence up to his execution. His case gained national attention and support from leaders including President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, former FBI director William S. Sessions and others.

“The morning after his execution, I like so many other people around the world were grappling with all kinds of emotions and thoughts about his execution and I just kept thinking about that question, ‘What must it be like for those that have to kill him?” Chukwu said.

That moment is when she decided to dig into the complexities of being a prison warden to tell this story.

Chukwu told News 3 the film is not for the movie-goer to decide whether the inmate should live or die, but look at the impact these executions have on society.

“I want to humanize the lives of those behind prison walls. I want to really explore the complexities of humanity of people regardless of innocence or guilt,” said Chukwu. “I hope that this film can inspire people not to define people by their worst possible act, but to really see, and feel, and think about the humanities that are tied to the prison industrial complex.”

Bronwyn Cornelius is one of the producers on “Clemency” and said the film leaves a powerful impact on its audience.

“It is powerful to witness the impact ‘Clemency’ is having on festival audiences around the United States,” Cornelius told News 3. “The film often leaves viewers afflicted and questioning our justice system, regardless of their views. The film also naturally reminds us we are all human, and we are all interconnected.”

“Clemency” seems to be doing just that so far. It has received positive reactions from critics, taking home the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is already generating Oscar buzz among multiple entertainment sources.

“It is a great blessing to see the film having the impact the director and producers hoped and aimed for,” Cornelius said. “May ‘Clemency’ make all of us stop to think, and ignite many conversations about the status of our justice system.”

Aldis Hodge, who plays the role of Anthony Woods, received the SCAD Savannah Film Festival’s Discovery Award before the film aired on Monday night.

He told News 3 on the red carpet, he hopes people leave the film with a newfound perspective of what “empathy” and “mercy” are.

“Clemency” is scheduled to be released on Dec. 27.

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